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March 9, 2006

Ekiga Goodness

I've been intrigued by VOIP. It seems like only yesterday, that we were using very inadequate tools to perform voice conversations over the internet(ie Firetalk, Netmeeting, Net2Phone). I suppose the thrust at that time was to avoid the exorbitant costs of stateside long distance carrier charges. Now that wireless technology has taken off, and cell phones are practically ubiquitous, cost isn't so much of an issue stateside. The next frontier is taking advantage of the bandwidth in your home. Perhaps 50% of computer users have broadband connections, and a segment of those are using some sort of softphone.

Enter companies like Digium, Skype, and Vonage, and you quickly discover that you can do more with your bandwidth, than simple websurfing and occasion BitTorrent use. Well Skype utilizes SIP, the open VOIP, for it closed source application. Vonage offers VOIP service for home users. Digium leverages the very powerful open source PBX (and much more), Asterisk for residential and business use.

Additionally, Skype has a couple more problems, as it is woefully inadequate when you're attempting to capture audio from two separate sources(ie podcasting). It also uses a supernode technology synonomous to some of the other P2P networks (ie defunct Kazaa), which begs the question, "Do I want constant ask to my hard disk?" Never cared for Kazaa's model anyway.
I believe they do offer a Linux client, but I never bothered with it based on my first experience.

I have chosen to use Ekiga (formerly Gnomemeeting), and I have been quite pleased with it. It has an active development community and it has been quite stable since Gnomemeeting 1.0. The only gripe I ever had with it was the fact that it was a GNOME based package and that spelled problems during the early days (esp w/GConf). Those problems have disappeared and it's quite easy to install from source. So, Slackware users, be encouraged :)

**Note** to Slackware users: If you built your kernel from 2.4 kernel headers, you may have problems building pwlib, as video4linux ver2(video4l2) expects to be built against 2.6 kernel headers. If you're using a webcam, video4l2 offers some enhancements over its predocessor video4l. Please be advised that you do not need to use a webcam in order to run Ekiga, it works just fine without one. Some other niceties is that it now offers an easy means to handle NAT without resorting to punching holes in your firewall. They have also replaced openh323 with OPAL. If you're using the Evolution email client, Ekiga also takes advantage of your contact list. So you could easily setup an audio/video conference with anyone in your contact list. Another nicety is that you can also make calls to POTS and wireless devices (ie cell phones). Very slick.

Because Ekiga doesn't have a built in mechanism to record audio, I had to deploy a work around. Using the alsamixer and ecasound, I was able to capture all the audio coming across my soundcard.

Although, it would be nice, you really don't need a nifty record button inside your application.
where would we be without open source tools.

Posted by AG at March 9, 2006 1:13 PM