Easy video VoIP phone and chat for Ubuntu

Ekiga

Ekiga Video VoIP phone for UbuntuOne thing I really miss since converting to Ubuntu Linux, was Skype video calls with friends and colleagues. Although Ubuntu (linux) does have a skype Skype client, it is still several releases behind the Windows counterpart, and as so is quite limited in what it can and cannot do.

So what else was a VoIP video chat addict to do, but to take matters into my own hands and go searching for a somewhat comparable video chat client. One thing I have learned since I converted to Ubuntu last summer, is that there are tons of 'fairly comparable' applications to most windows counterparts, if you have the patience to look for them.

You can imagine my excitement, when I not only found an application that would suffice, but is a very capable feature-rich video VoIP and text client. The client is called Ekiga, formerly called Gnome Meeting, and is a fantastic IM chat client, as well as a video VoIP phone client, capable of communicating with both SIP and H.323 protocols, as well as PC-to-phone.

Downloading and installing Ekiga was very simple, as it has install packages for most popular linux distros available on the Ekiga Download page. I selected the Ubuntu i386 Debian package, and it installed itself in one easy step after double-clicking on the .deb installation package.

The Ekiga website is very comprehensive, and has a very thorough Documentation and FAQs pages that will walk you through the setup and configuration of your Ekiga client, and even show you how to register your very own SIP address (like an email address, this is how your friends using SIP phones will contact you).

The call quality was very good - both the audio and video - and I had no complaints what-so-ever.

Easy Video Chat with Skype 2.0 in Ubuntu 9.04

Perhaps there are some of you out there with a friend or loved one that is a long distance away and a regular phone call just doesn’t suffice. It’s one thing to hear his or her voice, but to see a face and a smile makes a world of a difference. I am soon to be in such a situation and I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to make the most of my communication with this special person.

To begin, I needed a web camera that was fully supported in Ubuntu. The installation had to be seamless, much like the Apple experience. After doing some research on web camera compatibility with Ubuntu, I decided to hit my local department store and make a selection. The camera I purchased is a Logitech QuickCam Chat. This camera carried a $20 USD price tag (it’s $13.99 on Newegg.com at the time of this writing), so it was budget friendly. The camera also included an earpiece with a microphone. While this earpiece/microphone will do the job, I soon found out that the mic must be held close to the mouth in order to be clearly audible for the listener on the other end. To solve this problem, I picked up a Logitech ClearChat Stereo headset with microphone for about $18 USD ($16.99 on Newegg.com at the time of this writing). That’s all the hardware I needed for this job.

For software, I chose Skype. I have heard that Skype has the best web camera support and ease of use in Linux. Skype also has another benefit: it’s free. Installing Skype is also quite easy. You simply go to Skype.com and download the Ubuntu package and double-click the file to install it via GDebi Package Installer. This is the easy way to install Skype and I recommend this method for those of you who are not comfortable using the command line. However, an alternative installation is better in the long run. Adding a repository for Skype makes it easier to upgrade to future releases. To do so, simply add the necessary repository (use a command line).

  • Type: sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list [hit Enter]
  • Enter your password or an administrator password
  • Arrow down to the very end of the file (past the last line)
  • Type: deb http://packages.medibuntu.org/ jaunty free non-free [hit Enter]
  • Type: deb-src http://packages.medibuntu.org/ jaunty free non-free
  • Hold the Ctrl key and hit the “X” key to quit
  • Hit the “Y” key to save the file
  • Hit Enter to confirm the location (do not change it)

Now that you’re back at the normal command prompt, you need to add the key for the repository. Here’s how (still at the command prompt):

  • Type: wget -q http://packages.medibuntu.org/medibuntu-key.gpg -O- | sudo apt-key add -
  • Enter your password or an administrator password (if needed)

Finally, you need to update your repositories, which may take a little time.

  • Type: sudo apt-get update [hit Enter]
  • Enter your password or an administrator password (if needed)

Once the repositories update, you need to install Skype.

  • Type: sudo apt-get install skype [hit Enter]
  • Enter your password or an administrator password (if needed)

Skype will finally be downloaded and installed, along with the dependencies it needs. You can find Skype in the Applications menu (Applications->Internet->Skype).

All this command line typing doesn’t seem so “seamless” or anything like the “Apple experience” I described above; however, it does serve a great benefit. In the event that the repository gets an updated version of Skype, your system will automatically know to download and install it through your update manager. Essentially, you’re doing a little more work up front to make future updates simple and nearly automated.

Now, I had the necessary hardware and software for video chatting.

Ubuntu had no problems detecting my camera. I simply plugged it in to a USB port on my computer. It was that simple. To verify that it indeed installed, a simple command is typed in the command prompt.

  • Type: lsusb

After typing that command, it will give you output of all of the USB devices on your system. On my system, the camera sowed up as,

  • Bus 002 Device 004: ID 046d:08af Logitech, Inc. QuickCam Easy/Cool

After launching Skype (and setting up my account), I verified that Skype indeed recognized my camera. Browsing through the options (Ctrl+O), I see in the Video Devices that Skype recognizes my camera as,

  • USB Camera (046d:08af) (dev/video0)

Notice how the 046d:08af part matches in both Skype and that “lsusb” command. This ensures that the camera has been properly detected and is ready for use in Skype. Of course, I had to test this thing out. So, a test call was made. And, viola! A video chat was in session. Everything was working as expected and I was pleased to be able to see the person I was calling. (Oh, yeah, she was excited too. She also is an Ubuntu user with the same setup as I have, except that she’s on a laptop using Hardy (Ubuntu 8.04), and everything worked quite well for her, except for a disappearing buttons issue—a fix is explained in this post.)

This experience has shown me that Linux has come a long way when it comes to installing new software. I have also seen that Linux has a solid base for supporting extra peripherals (i.e. the web camera). Installing the web camera was as seamless as it gets. It was a true plug-and-play experience (unlike the typical plug-and-install-driver-and-additional-software-and-reboot-and-play experience you get with Windows). I must say that I am impressed. I am also excited to see Linux function in such a way that it is easy to use, even for someone without any technical experience. Linux has been touted as the operating system for geeks, but I can see a shift in a direction towards the general user, while still appealing to us geeks. It’s experiences like this that make me confident to recommend Linux, namely, Ubuntu, to people looking to get a new computer.

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