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Given recent revelations about constant dragnet surveillance, I've decided to start looking for alternative forms of communication that let me be in control end-to-end. My first step is to wean myself (and my family) off of Skype.

I've spent days searching, downloading, configuring and experimenting with various open source systems for IM and VoIP. So far, I've installed and configured the Prosody XMPP/Jabber daemon on my Debian server. It's reasonably simple to use; I just need to create the accounts for everyone and give them straight forward instructions for configuring their XMPP clients (probably Pidgin).

This works nicely for IM and file transfers, but that's the limit it so far. If this is going to take off, I need to be able to do VoIP and, ideally, video chat.

Is there any IM and VoIP system that:

  • Has clients for Windows and Linux
  • Is encrypted end-to-end
  • Does IM, file transfers, VoIP and video chat without huge user configuration hassles
  • Is either decentralized or lets me run my own daemon

Pidgin is a nice client, but it appears to only support VoIP on Linux.

Jitsi is buggy on Windows XP, it won't launch unless the audio libraries are disabled, which obviously means VoIP won't work.

RetroShare is decentralized, but is far too complicated for most users to add new contacts. VoIP is also highly experimental and basically useless at this point.

I'm open to pretty much any ideas that meet the bulleted criteria above.

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closed as off-topic by terdon, Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007, teylyn, soandos, gronostaj Jul 8 '13 at 11:21

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3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I'm a strong advocate of XMPP (previously known as Jabber), as it provides a lot of advantages:

  • Decentralized server
  • Open standards
  • Uses mail-like addresses (for most users, this is the same as their mail address)
  • Large potential user base, as many mail providers do include XMPP as part of their service (e.g., it is the technology behind Google Talk and Hangout, even though Google seems to want to undo their early openness)
  • Servers do cooperate if necessary (similar to Mail using SMTP: user1@domain1 can invite user2@domain2; only the two servers are involved)
  • Server is easily set up
  • Clients support IM, Audio, Video, Screen Sharing, shared Whiteboard, …
  • Many clients support end-to-end encryption and authentication (using OTR for text and ZRTP for A/V)

As a server, I recommend ejabberd, which many Linux distributions include as an optional package, as it is full-featured and easy to configure.

Clients galore, depending on your taste:

  • I personally prefer Jitsi, as it supports IM, A/V, Screen sharing, group chats (including A/V), by default secured by ZRTP (I am fearless enough to use their nightly builds)
  • Pidgin (MacOSX counterpart: Adium) is what many of my friends use.
  • Psi+ (the development branch of Psi) also has a great deal of followers

The best of it: Most clients have multi-platform support (MacOSX, Linux, Windows) and also support other IM protocols, so your friends can gradually be converted :-).

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I agree that XMPP is probably the best option here, and so far, Jitsi comes the closest to what I'm looking for. It's kinda rough around the edges for most people to use, but I think it's the best client out there that does everything on my list. Thanks. –  Nucking Futz Jul 10 '13 at 1:53

sounds like you could do a lot worse than look into using some of the tools that gaming clans use.

for example, TeamSpeak is awesome and you don't need any sort of licence to run for a small family & friends group. even after that its only registering for a non-profit licence.

http://www.teamspeak.com/

another option would be ventrillo, although not as up to date

http://www.ventrilo.com/

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Hmm, now there's an interesting idea I hadn't thought of. Looks promising, thanks. –  Nucking Futz Jul 7 '13 at 20:50
    
Tried it ... it's certain an interesting exercise, but it's really not geared towards this type of use. Will continue to experiment, however. –  Nucking Futz Jul 7 '13 at 21:05
    
strange as teamspeak basically ticks all the boxes except video so not really sure where the stumbling block is? –  James Jul 7 '13 at 21:09
    
Technically, I guess it does, but the UI and general usage paradigm really doesn't jive with the simplicity and linear usage of a typical VoIP/IM client (ie.: users need to deliberately connect to a server on each run, IM and voice is always on and in broadcast mode, far too many little detailed options for most users that will confuse them) –  Nucking Futz Jul 7 '13 at 21:23

I think that Comparison of VoIP software will be useful and interesting for you. There is a lot of information about VoIP servers and clients for different OSes. My choice AsteriskPBX(server) + QuteCom (client). Probably it will be a little tricky to configure server, but client - just a couple clicks.

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