We here at GenXMedia are on the hunt for a replacement for Skype. Why? Well, since Microsoft now owns Skype, it puts a whole different pressure on the market and developers to come up with a viable alternative. It’s been a while since we’ve scoped out the offerings for video conferencing and we want to see what’s now available.
|Jitsi’s sparse contact list design|
It turns out, there are lots of alternatives out there, and we love software testing, so welcome to the first in an exclusive series of software tests and reviews as we embark on our QUEST FOR CHAT TM – an adventure which will no doubt be fraught with peril, abounding with chills and thrills and a cornucopia of plot twists.
So we developed a quick list of requirements: Free is best, audio chat, audio conferencing, video chat, video conferencing, text chat, and encrypted transmission for privacy. Of course, reliability, overall quality of audio and video chat and ease of use would be taken into consideration as well. If the chat software offered collaborative tools like screen sharing, file sharing and whiteboards that would be an added plus. Our test boxes for this episode of QUEST FOR CHAT TM are a Windows 7 desktop and Windows 8 laptop, separated by several thousand miles over the internet, and the first offering we wanted to try was a neat-looking package named Jitsi.
|Jitsi’s “Add Contact” window|
The Jitsi web site looked promising. Their chat offering has a simple, sparse interface and has most of the features we were looking for, including free multiple video conferencing and encrypted chatting, it was open source, and best of all, it was free.
The first problem the testers experienced was on the install. Our valiant testers went into the Downloads section of the Jitsi website and grabbed the latest stable build (version 2.4).
Unlike many programs that will install an x86 (32-bit) version of software on x64 (64-bit) Operating Systems, Jitsi requires that you install the appropriate version for your operating system. This meant that one of the testers (whose coffee had lost effect hours previously) had to download the installer twice. This was annoying, as it was on the Windows 7 test box, which is quite capable of running x86 programs. A minor problem, the tester should have downloaded the proper installer, it can be overlooked.
|Jitsi’s window to invite contacts into the call.|
The thing is, this was just the tip of the iceberg.
After installing, the user must pick a method by which to log in. Jitsi asks you to select from AIM, Facebook, GoogleTalk, ICQ, ippi, IPtel, MSN, SIPP, XMPP or Yahoo accounts. Hmm. We’re trying to get AWAY from relying on the “megacorps” like AOL (Time Warner Communications now), Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, and Jitsi does not allow independent login. Not to go all “tinfoil hat” and everything, but if privacy means anything to you, this is a problem. (…and is ICQ really still operating??)
Okay, well, we were just testing it out, so we picked Google logins and continued.
Next, Jitsi asks the user to enter contacts. Again, it encourages you to auto-add your contact lists from the above mentioned list of networks. Again, this integration with these networks made our normally fearless testers a little jittery. You can, however, add a single contact, which is what the testers did.
|What Jitsi promises its chat window looks like.
Sadly, our testers never got this far.
That went smoothly. It was also the last thing the testers were able to successfully do with the software.
Don’t expect Jitsi to auto-detect and auto-configure anything for you. It won’t. If you have more than one microphone attached to your computer, for example, it will not look at your system settings and automatically select whatever device you have identified as your default. You have to manually set all that up. It takes only a few minutes, and it’s annoying, but this could easily be automated.
Opening up an encrypted chat window required manual question-and-password authentication from the person that you already approved and added as a contact. You type in the question and provide the answer, and the contact with which you wish to chat must match that answer. Another annoyance.
Once properly authenticated, the testers could not connect with a chat window. Jitsi kept throwing “ICE failed” errors on the Windows 7 test box, no matter which tester tried to initiate the chat. A quick check of the Jitsi FAQ for “ICE failed” errors provided the following answer:
Jitsi implements a number of NAT traversal methods as described here (link). In many situations we will be able to setup a call directly between you and other users but in order to be able to reliably establish calls, your XMPP or SIP provider has to provide relaying capabilities such as TURN, Jingle Nodes or . If looking for services that support these you can try jit.si or ippi. Also note that both you and your partner need to have unhindered outgoing UDP access to the Internet or at least to your VoIP service provider. You DO NOT however need to map any port numbers on your home router. At best this is going to have no effect.
At this point, it became fairly evident that “ease of use” really wasn’t very high on the developer’s list of priorities and this software would have a significant learning curve. It was also at this point that the testers decided to abandon the evaluation. Ease of use is a major consideration for us as we are dealing with users of varying skill levels and the closer we can get to a plug-and-play solution, the better. Jitsi is anything BUT plug-and-play.
Jitsi would clearly not meet our requirements, and the testers were not at all impressed with this chat product.
In our next installment of QUEST FOR CHAT TM our intrepid testers will take on ooVoo.