Linux and Conferencing Solutions

Like many others in the industry, I am doing a lot of work in my ‘home office’ lately while the Corona virus continues to make normal life as we know it impossible. A lot of people, including myself, have started to use various video calling and conferencing solutions a lot more than before and I was quite surprised how many of those closed source and commercial solutions have a native Linux implementation.

For my private communication I use my self-hosted Nextcloud Talk server. Not only is it open source so I trust it on my personal machines, but I also host the server at home so nobody can casually eavesdrop on my private communication. Apps for iOS and Android are available as well and on modern smartphones it even runs well in the browser. I’ve done many video calls in the past few weeks that lasted more than an hour and the solution is nice and stable.

The next best thing I can recommend to people is to use one of the public Jitsi servers. It’s open source so one can also install an instance at home. As my Nextcloud Talk setup works nicely, I haven’t personally tried to set-up and instance, so can’t say how difficult it is to get it up and running. When using a public Jitsi instance, communication is still decrypted and re-encrypted at a server somewhere on the Internet. However I’d still trust some of those instances way more than large commercial services.

While Nextcloud Talk and Jitsi are great for one-to-one video calls and small conference calls, they (still) lack some features that are absolutely essential for larger webinars, lectures or remote support sessions such as screen sharing with remote mouse and keyboard control and the ability for an organizer to mute participants with annoying background noise that don’t react to friendly reminders to go on mute. A small feature, perhaps, but absolutely essential for calls with more than 3 participants. Also, one sometimes gets invited to conference calls so one doesn’t have the choice to use an open source and self hosted solution for everything. So I had a look which services have a native Linux client:

The first service I had a look at for hosting a video conference is Zoom. It has a native Linux client that looks pretty much identical to the MacOS and Windows variant and, as far as I can tell, has the same feature set: Voice, video, screen sharing, remote keyboard and mouse support, etc. Also, the Linux version works great with two screens and I’ve run a couple of sessions as organizer with 10 participants over several hours with my Linux box with execellent results. Zoom is not open source unfortunately, so I wouldn’t dream of running it on my private Linux notebook. But fortunately I had a spare notebook without private data on it which I now use for the purpose.

For video calls, one option I occasionally use when all else doesn’t work is Microsoft’s Skype. There is a native Linux client for it that works well but I only use it for private calls as a last resort. Teamviewer and Microsoft Teams also have native Linux clients so these could work for me as well on a standalone notebook. However, I haven’t tried them (yet).

The popular Webex service does not seem to have a native Linux client, so that’s the worst of all options for me. GotoMeeting/Gotowebinar fare a bit better, at least they have a Chrome browser based client with audio functionality. Better than nothing.

In some cases, another option for using such kind of proprietary software is on a smartphone or tablet with the native app. On these platforms, the software is somewhat isolated from my private data, so at least something… But from a privacy and security point of view I would only use it for public conversations or only as a last resort.

A lot of choice and I’m very happy to have my own hardware and open source software in place for my private calls, and Linux clients on a separate machine for non-open source commercial services for public lectures and conferences. Happy conferencing to ya all!

One thought on “Linux and Conferencing Solutions”

  1. Not that I am recommending any but for completeness sake I’d like to mention 2 more that I at least tried once.

    BigBlueButton uses, it seems, HTML5 clients. Hence it works on Linux just as well (besides BBB is open source and can be self-hosted, though, a quick glance at the documentation did not make me leap for joy).

    Jami is open-source, cross-platform, there are packages for all major distributions and more. It uses a peer-to-peer concept with all its advantages and disadvantages.

    A generally good source of advice also for this kind software and services is Real-Time Communication.

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