Ditch Skype for your audio, video and text chats

Slashdot it! Delicious Share on Facebook Tweet! Digg!


It has been a long time since web browsers could only render HTML and display static websites. Today, even office suites and 3D games can be run in the browser using HTML5 and JavaScript. Although these innovations have had some downsides, they also make it possible to deal with numerous areas of applications that were previously off limits for dedicated applications. Web Real-Time Communication WebRTC [30] takes advantage of these possibilities.

With WebRTC, you can call data in real time from the web server, as well as from other users' browsers. This makes it possible to have classic conferencing features, like chats, video conferences, and desktop sharing, all in the browser. Spurred on by Google, Mozilla, and Opera Software, WebRTC has established itself as a recognized open source standard. As a result, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera all provide the best support for WebRTC. Typically, there is no need for additional software, such as browser extensions and plugins. Skype is also experimenting with the protocol. It serves as the basis for the alpha version of the future Skype client for Linux [31].

However, the protocol requires a central web server in order to generate a connection. This is different from the solutions that work with hash tables. Due to the open standard, the user can choose among various alternatives. These include, for example, the portals from appear.in, meet.jit.si, or palava.tv. The latter operates a public interest organization in Germany. Many of these offerings, like Jitsi Meet, can also be forked via Github and operated on the user's own server [32]. Starting with version 34.0, Mozilla has even been operating its own service in its browser. This function ends with Firefox 49 [33].

You do not need an account for many of the WebRTC portals found on the Internet. Most of the time it suffices to name a chat room and then provide the link that is generated to the conference participants. They then open the page in their browser, permit access to the webcam and microphone, and are connected. Theoretically, any Internet user could join the conference. Therefore, you should select a random name for private discussions. Many portals have a generator for this purpose.

Services such as Jitsi Meet (Figure 7) take it one step further and assign moderation rights to the conference creator. This lets the moderator remove unwanted visitors from the discussion or place them on mute. In addition, the room can be secured with a password against unknown visitors. A chat function and a collaborative editor based on Etherpad Lite [34] round out the package. Streaming is made possible with the browser plugin Jitsi Desktop Streamer (available for Chrome [35] and Firefox [36]). The user can stream the contents of individual program windows or of the entire desktop.

Figure 7: Thanks to HTML5, WebRTC and Jitsi Meet do not need a special client. A modern browser is entirely sufficient.

A WebRTC-capable browser is all you will need on a smartphone. Under Android, this would be something like Chrome or Firefox. However, many WebRTC portals have not been optimized for mobile browsers. This is the case for Jitsi Meet. Apple's Safari browser and the underlying WebKit back-end are still not ready for WebRTC [37]. However, Apple is working on implementing the technology. In the meantime, the open source browser Bowser [38] can be used instead. Many portals, such as appear.in, offer native apps for Android [39] and iOS [40].


Most users turn to Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and perhaps Threema and Signal. The corresponding services have been active for years and come preinstalled on many smartphones. They are also available with popular online services. Even so, there are other, open and free options that come with lots of potential.

Applications like Retroshare, Ring, and Tox do not need a central server and therefore do not maintain a profile. This makes organizing contacts and synchronizing chat histories somewhat more difficult, but it also preserves the user's personal privacy. And you don't have to make do with a limited set of features. Audio and video chats have become pretty much standard. Screensharing is also no longer a rarity.

You should also not underestimate WebRTC. When all is said and done, implementations like Jitsi Meet offer everything that Skype does, but you don't have to install a proprietary client. The service is completely open source. You can therefore install your own copy and organize audio and video conferences at your pleasure.


  1. "Dear Skype/Microsoft": http://nickforall.nl/skype/
  2. Skype for Linux Alpha version: https://support.skype.com/en/faq/FA34656/more-information-about-skype-for-linux-alpha
  3. Electron: http://electron.atom.io/
  4. Ghetto Skype: https://github.com/stanfieldr/ghetto-skype
  5. Retroshare: https://retroshare.github.io
  6. Turtle: http://turtle-p2p.sourceforge.net
  7. Installing Retroshare: https://retroshare.github.io/downloads.html
  8. Ricochet: https://ricochet.im
  9. Voice/video chats in Ricochet: https://github.com/ricochet-im/ricochet/issues/308
  10. Ricochet on Github: https://github.com/ricochet-im/ricochet/graphs/contributors
  11. Ricochet security assessment: https://ricochet.im/files/ricochet-ncc-audit-2016-01.pdf
  12. Ring: https://ring.cx/en
  13. Savoir-faire Linux: https://www.savoirfairelinux.com/en/
  14. OpenDHT: https://github.com/savoirfairelinux/opendht
  15. Installing Ring: https://ring.cx/en/download/gnu-linux
  16. Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=cx.ring
  17. F-Droid: https://f-droid.org/repository/browse/?fdid=cx.ring
  18. Signal on Open Whisper Systems: https://whispersystems.org
  19. Moxie Marlinspike: https://moxie.org
  20. "Allow different kinds of identifiers for registration": https://github.com/WhisperSystems/Signal-Android/issues/1085
  21. Signal for Chrome/Chromium: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/signal-private-messenger/bikioccmkafdpakkkcpdbppfkghcmihk
  22. Tox: https://tox.chat/
  23. "Daily reminder that Skype reads the URLs you send": http://rbt.asia/g/thread/S34778013#p34778939
  24. uTox: http://utox.org
  25. qTox: https://github.com/qTox/qTox
  26. Installing qTox: https://wiki.tox.chat/clients/qtox
  27. Toxme User Lookup: https://toxme.io/
  28. Antox: https://github.com/Antox/Antox
  29. Antidote: https://github.com/Antidote-for-Tox/Antidote
  30. WebRTC: https://webrtc.org
  31. "New Skype for Linux client released, built on Web technology": http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/07/skype-for-linux-is-resurrected-available-now-as-an-alpha/
  32. Jitsi Meet: https://github.com/jitsi/jitsi-meet
  33. Firefox Hello: https://www.mozilla.org/de/firefox/hello/
  34. Etherpad Lite: https://github.com/ether/etherpad-lite
  35. Jitsi Desktop Streamer for Chrome: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/jitsi-desktop-streamer/diibjkoicjeejcmhdnailmkgecihlobk
  36. Jitsi Desktop Streamer for Firefox: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/jitsi-desktop-streamer/
  37. WebKit support by WebRTC: https://webkit.org/status/#specification-webrtc
  38. Bowser: http://www.openwebrtc.org/bowser/
  39. appear.in for Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=appear.in.app
  40. appear.in for iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/appear.in-free-group-video/id878583078?mt=8

Buy this article as PDF

Express-Checkout as PDF

Pages: 7

Price $0.99
(incl. VAT)

Buy Ubuntu User

Get it on Google Play

US / Canada

Get it on Google Play

UK / Australia

Related content