What are the alternatives to Skype on Linux

It is pretty much acknowledged by now that Skype is evil. Maybe not as evil as a DRM on a brand new game, but very close. To summarize the events, Skype has been bought by Microsoft, has been spied on by the NSA, is now quitting its peer-to-peer protocol for a centralized system, and on top of that, is proprietary software. The worst of it is that just like a DRM on a game, we put up with all of this for the product. It is true that Skype at first did help users go into the VoIP realm. Its interface is intuitive, and its setup is simple. However, it is time to move on. For this, here is a list of six software to replace Skype with on Linux.

1. Blink

Presented as a "state-of-the-art, easy to use SIP client," Blink is distributed under GPL license with a free version for Linux and Windows, and an optional pro version for Mac OS. All the basic features are present: instant messaging, video calls, file transfer, conferences, and screen sharing. It's written in Python and Cocoa, but most importantly, I love the URL of the official website.

2. Ekiga

Formerly known as GnomeMeeting, Ekiga comes with a lot of advanced features. Beyond the basic video call and chat, it comes packaged with a bunch of audio and video codecs, and integrates well with Gnome. But what I like the most is the interface. Simple yet beautiful, it really does the trick to replace Skype's sexiness.

3. Empathy

Probably one of the most famous of the lot, Empathy comes by default with a lot of Gnome environments. And for good reasons, it integrates well with the desktop and does a bunch of things. Beyond SIP VoIP, it also allows you to use your favorite protocols, including but not limited to Facebook IM and Google Talk (because if you are leaving Skype for spying on you, you can go straight to Facebook and Google instead). And as its most uncommon features, it includes geolocation of contacts and desktop remote controlling.

4. Jitsi

Also famous, Jitsi is a multiplatform SIP VoIP software written in Java. What differentiates it from the others is a particularly trendy interface and a focus on encryption and privacy. If you are leaving Skype because of your lack of trust, Jitsi is probably the way to go: it proposes both messaging and voice encryption using OTR and ZRTP protocols. Besides that, you will find the same conference/call recording/instant messaging features as elsewhere.

5. Linphone

Linphone does not have an interface that convinces me that much, as it tries to show everything at once, but remains one of the pillars in terms of VoIP software. Besides running on every possible computer OS, it also presents itself as an application for Blackberry, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. The software is sober but efficient in terms of features, and includes TLS encryption. Hence, it looks like a good alternative for the Skype mobile app.

6. Pidgin

Finally one of my favorite messaging software, Pidgin, includes a plugin to support SIP protocol. Called SIPE, it transforms the application that you love to support the protocol that you want. If you already have your habits with Pidgin (like a billion plugins installed for it, personalized emoticons, and a sick profile picture), you will be delighted to just add another account to the software. In the new account window, select the "Office Communicator" option.

Bonus

As a bonus, let me introduce Tox. This recently launched software does not include voice and video calls yet, but has the ambition to be the officious, completely secure, clone of Skype. With its design, entirely decentralized, and encrypted from end to end, Tox reminds me a lot of TorChat, but with a lot more ambitions. So this is software to support and keep an eye on.

To conclude, Skype is strong, Skype is big, but it isn't the only one out there. If you want privacy, you can always find it. But just like the best intentions in the world, you will need your contacts and your friends to follow you in order for all of this to make sense. As Utopian as it sounds, I hope that one day we can all move on.

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Adrien Brochard

I am a Linux aficionado from France. After trying multiple distributions, I finally settled for Archlinux. But I am always trying to improve my system by stacking up tips and tricks.
Your name can also be listed here. Write for us as a freelancer.

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21 thoughts on “What are the alternatives to Skype on Linux

  1. Hi, with all due respect, let's get real. Skype advantage is that it is used to call landlines. It is the only solution that after setting up an account lets the user call landlines out of the box. If anyone knows of a similar solution at the same price please post it. Much is talked about about video conference and chat. Many clients do that. The real issue is to be able to access a regular phone from a tablet, pc, of cellphone. And I am not a fan of skype, but can't find a substitute yet....

    • I use viber and hangouts. With new roll of hangouts you wont even need to install plugin for it to work. Also I have experienced that skype was performing poor when I was on slow internet, that is mostly the reason why I use hangouts now. Many of alternatives presented in this article perform really poor and it is not clear to my why hangouts is not presented as an alternative to skype.

    • Let get real? How about your real denial, or willingness to ignore reality for so called convenience. Conveniently violated, spied on, and or treated like a lab rat under constant surveillance. Ya thats worth it.

    • Hi,

      Most of the applications above will let you use the VoIP provider of your choice... I'll admit you don't create the account from within the application but that's no big deal. Ekiga even comes pre-configured to use Diamondcard.us if memory serves me right - and I have had a Diamondcard account for years. I use it as my primary phone... I've used it with Ekiga and with Jitsi.

      Seb.

      • Jitsi lets you create ippi.com accounts from within the app. I have tried quite a couple of VoIP clients, including commercial ones and Skype. My conclusion is to recommend Jitsi to everyone. Skype depends on Microsoft's willingness to continue the service, whether for free or at all. With a generic VoIP client, you can choose providers as you please.
        Jitsi is the be best VoIP by far. IMHO. I don't see it worth putting money down for any of the commercial products. The pay softwares are better than most of the free stuff, but Jitsi excels them all respects. Wides support of codecs, highest quality codecs, and the only useful UI in the market to my taste. YMMV, of course.

    • I have tested every softphone known to mankind over the last 6 months, to try to find a video call alternative to Skype that 1) works well and b) has an API. The results can be summarised as follows.

      SKYPE:
      reliably logs in and connects through any firewall, even if port 80 is the only port open.
      has by far the best video and audio quality, from any device.
      is the ONLY service that basically works every time, from anywhere, with good quality.
      has apps for all devices (BUT Microsoft will probably at some point discontinue Linux support).
      has no API (the URI thing is pathetic).
      is constantly changed by Microsoft and continues to display messages and crap all over the screen.

      HANGOUTS:
      almost connects through any firewall, almost as clever as Skype.
      video call quality not as good (darker, slower, less resolution).
      but other than that, very reliable - once it connects, it stays connected, with medium quality.
      horrible horrible user interface on a PC!
      works very badly on iPad about 50% of the time, very well on other devices.
      has an API, but not for full program control - you can only create an App within a Hangout.
      Hangout app is available for all devices, including Linux.
      Google support is fantastic, if you have a paid Google business account ($5 per month).
      Hangouts is the closest thing to Skype, and just needs a bit more work by Google.

      JITSI, EKIGA, LINPHONE, VIBER, ooVOO, FRING, IPPI, BRIA, X-LITE, NIMBUZZ, HIPCHAT, ETC. ETC.
      Some of these are OK as far as softphone clients go.
      Most require a SIP service to function, but even those that are "closed" use SIP behind the scenes.
      SIP SUCKS! It does not get through your firewall to login - it fails if even a basic firewall is in place.
      SIP SUCKS! It does not get through your firewall to successfully connect calls - failure rate of 30%.
      SIP SUCKS! every provider (and I mean every) either doesn't support video properly, or has no servers in my region so I get a 0.7s delay to/from the other side of the world, doesn't answer their phone for support, or fails to login or connect a call for no apparent reason about 30% of the time.
      and yes, the above applies even if your SIP service has STUN, TURN and ICE support.

      WE NEED A NEW SKYPE. Hangouts is nearly there, and after my research, I fully understand why Google now use a proprietary closed protocol - SIP and XMPP standards alone are no good. So I encourage everyone to support Google Hangouts and help Google finish the job. There are only a few things remaining for Google to do, and Hangouts will be as good as Skype:

      - the Hangouts client needs a bit of work: it chews up 95% of CPU, compared to 75% by Skype, for lesser call quality ; and the PC interface is confusing.
      - Google doesn't have many servers in the Asia-Pacific region, so call quality is low.
      - Hangouts struggles to get through my firewall sometimes.

      Google are a more open company than Microsoft, with better service, and they actually listen to their customers.

  2. Google hangouts is much better than skype. You could video chat with a group of friends on hangouts before that feature was available on skype.

  3. Actually, there is Movim, which uses webRTC for video-calling and chatting. It needs no installation nor plugins to work. Just a web browser.

  4. I mainly use jitsi now. I use google hangouts only as an alternative for those contacts that don't use jitsi. Just like Microsoft/skype i try to stay away from google more and more.

  5. I have been an avid user of Skype for many years and I know of no other service that provides the breadth that Skype does. I have numerous land line numbers in countries that allows customers to make a local landline call that comes to me wherever I am. I pay an annual subscription for unlimited landline and mobile (in some countries) calls from my Skype account and of course I use Skype for regular IM and calling. I am no Microsoft lover but nobody comes close to what Skype has to offer. Viber could, Google could and maybe even Whatsapp could but they don't yet and the services you have mentioned are not a patch on the total Skype offering.

  6. I don't like Skype. I'd rather use Google Hangouts. And there are surely a dozen alternatives but by the notion of network effect, you can no choice but use the means most people use. Skype is therefore the most perferred one.

  7. The problem is the (lack of) userbase for these apps. It's all well and good using an alternative service, but for most users Skype is simply enough. Even I use it, despite the surrounding controversy, without qualms. To be frank, the government can have my data if it means I can talk to my friends without forcing them to download some obscure piece of software just so I can chat to them while we play Team Fortress 2, because they won't do it.

    A prime example of this are in the social media space: Google+ is one, but more tellingly is Diaspora. The user base of Diaspora is a small group of highly conscious individuals, but definitely very few, if any, of their less conscious friends. Security versus usability. In this case, usability is both the usability of the application as well as the amount of friends using it, without which there is no point to using it. Having "super secure" and "no government monitoring" as the only key selling points simply doesn't make it worth the switch for most people.

    Any large networking service, whether you like it or not, is going to be monitored somehow. At this point there's not much anyone can do about it except push for change in governmental policy. Moving from one watering hole to another will only be painful initially and, if you somehow manage to get your entire social circle using another service, eventually end up with agencies monitoring that service as well. It's unfortunate, but that's just how it is until a change is forced.

  8. As far as I'm concerned if people won't talk to me on a secure and private IM, then I don't want to talk to them. I'll just stick to the friends I can meet face to face.

  9. Your comment about Tox is not true.

    uTox client supports audio/video calls plus ordinary texting as well.
    That said it is still in alpha state.

  10. I like linphone, because it's GPL licence, TLS and NAT support, and because it is based on a standard protocol (SIP). I used it a long time ago, but it lacks support of h.323 protocol for video conferencing.

  11. One problem with some of the solutions above (leaving aside the obvious, user base one) is their Gnome dependency. Bearing in mind the sorry state of Gnome these days, which has pushed away lots of former Gnome users, those solution lose most of their appeal because of that. I mean, having to install the Gnome cruft in order to be able to use such Skype alternatives is a deal killer for many.

    • Probably work fine on Cinnamon. Most of the same stuff under the hood, but you can think of it as Cinnamon stuff rather than Gnome stuff so it's OK. ;-)

  12. Ekiga DOES support calls to landlines & mobiles, and even supports Text messages. Should work with any SIP client

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