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Jun
23

Top 4 Linux VoIP clients

by Rob Zwetsloot

Ditch Skype for an open source alternative as we compare some of the best VoIP clients that Linux has to offer

What are the best Linux VoIP clients? We have four we’ve put four of the best to the test to figure out exactly which one wins triumphantly.

Ekiga

Originally known as GnomeMeeting, Ekiga is a softphone and IM service that enables you to talk and send instant messages via a preconfigured SIPs server. It also has its own SIPs account system, giving you one less thing to sort out if you’re making the switch from another VoIP service.

VoIP client Ekiga
VoIP client Ekiga

Interface

The Ekiga interface is incredibly simple, offering only the bare essential options throughout the contact list, chat windows and initial menu choices. It makes it easy enough to navigate at least, showing a decently filtered list of contacts and basic text editing for the chat itself.

Customisability

Ekiga doesn’t have the widest array of customisations, allowing you to perform tweaks here and there to the audio and video but nothing major to the way it to talks to the main SIPs server. This is possibly part of making the whole application easier to use, however with the options it does have, it doesn’t go deep enough.

Codecs

What it lacks in general customisability, Ekiga makes up for in sheer number of available audio codecs. This level of choice allows you to customise your client for any type of connection or server to make sure you get the best balance of quality and bandwidth from a call.

Extras

While Ekiga doesn’t offer a way to connect to other IM services, the whole Ekiga SIPs account is very much a nice addition for those that want to quickly get away from Skype and don’t have the means of setting up a dedicated SIPs account – or finding a good alternative online.

Overall

7

Ekiga is a perfectly fine piece of software, but it’s nothing more than that. With a bit more customisability on board it could be one of the best especially with the addition of the Ekiga account.

Linphone

Linphone is a VoIP and video client that is absolutely everywhere, allowing you to connect to a SIPs server of your choice as a pure softphone application. It’s available across just about every desktop and mobile environment, so if you like it you don’t need to go anywhere without it.

The  Linphone interface
The Linphone interface

Interface

Having so many versions seems to work to Linphone’s advantage, having a modern interface that wouldn’t look out of place as an official KDE app. It’s kept simple, with separate tabs for content, history and the dialphone to call a real number. Menu items are low but hide a wider array of options.

Customisability

A little like Ekiga, Linphone is low on the customisation options. It does offer a little more control over how you connect to the SIPs servers at least, along with customising parts of the user interface. However, there are a lot of options missing that we see elsewhere in the group test.

Codecs

Comparatively a low amount of codecs, offering around ten separate ways to customise your audio experience. While it does have some of the more major ones, it doesn’t allow for the fine-tuning that other VoIP clients allow. Coupled with the somewhat limited customisation options, you won’t be able to get a call as perfect as you might want.

Extras

There’s no extra Linphone accounts or ability to connect to separate IM accounts, leaving Linphone strictly a way to chat and talk with contacts via a preconfigured SIPs server. While that may be all you need, it’s nice to reduce down on open applications and consolidate ways to chat on many systems.

Overall

5

Linphone is limited on how you can use it, especially when compared to all the other apps bringing something extra to the table. It’s got the advantage of being uniform across its many platforms, but that only matters to a few.

Jitsi

Jitsi is more of an all-in-one chat and talk service, with both the standard VoIP services we’re looking for in SIP while also handling IM and video from many other IM providers and services, such as XMPP. It’s always in development, so new services and features are added regularly.

Jitsi has a good selection of settings
Jitsi has a good selection of settings

Interface

A pretty standard interface really, Jitsi is not particularly aesthetically pleasing but it does the job and is logically laid out. Contacts are listed in a traditional fashion with little grouping to them,and the menu system is fairly straightforward, having been labelled well. It is very plain though – but that’s a hard thing to fault.

Customisability

Jitsi is hugely customisable, with options for just about every facet of the software. Whether it’s editing the way the actual VoIP and the connections work, to interface behaviour and chat, it’s really easy to get it working exactly as you want with an hugely in-depth menu system.

Codecs

Like Ekiga, Jitsi does have a huge list of audio codecs and a handful of video ones to make sure you can tweak the VoIP services to perfection if need be. These are easily changeable as well, although you’ll have to dig a little in the options to find them.

Extras

One of the major features of Jitsi is that as well as standard SIP server connections, it can also connect to many IM services such as XMPP, Facebook and Google Hangouts. It also supports video and audio through XMPP, making the entire suite a lot more flexible and generally more useful.

Overall

8

Jitsi is really quite excellent, with development focusing on the areas that need the most work, while items such as the interface are not overdeveloped, resulting in a good balance of function and usability.

QuteCom

The successor to WengoPhone, QuteCom is a quite popular softphone SIPs client that handles all the VoIP functions we’re looking for. However, its development has stalled a little in the last couple of years, making its future seemingly unknown. Does it hold up despite its age?

Qute's configuration menus look better than they are
Qute’s configuration menus look better than they are

Interface

The QuteCom name is a bit of a giveaway to the framework it’s written in, and the design of Qute itself screams a QT/KDE style interface. In fact, it probably has the nicest interface out of every app here. It’s simple, useful and looks like a professional VoIP client.

Customisability

QuteCom has a pretty decent selection of customisation options for the interface, chat and call functions of the software. Each section is split up into simple and advanced, with an entire dedicated advanced section to make sure that rookies don’t check the wrong box when trying to changing something simple.

Codecs

The smallest selection of codecs in this test, Qute could probably do with adding a few more options to the list. However its status in development limbo may mean that never happens. There are at least a selection of major codecs, so you can do some form of tweaking and optimisation.

Extras

Qute has nothing more than the VoIP options, no extra IM clients or the Ekiga-style account system. It does have a profile page for each account you set up, but this adds little to the functionality of the overall product. Hopefully if development picks up again, something interesting is added.

Overall

Qute isn’t actually as behind the other apps as we first expecting, however it is lacking in customisability, codecs and extras which means it doesn’t really stand out from the rest of the crowd.

The winner

Jitsi

It’s easier than ever to get your own SIPs account, whether you’re making it through Ekiga, a third-party site or even setting it up yourself on a home server. Jitsi is the app that gets the very most out of whatever you set up, even if you don’t plan to use SIPs. Thanks to its ability to connect to other chat services, it becomes an all-in-one chat and IM client for however you want to contact people.

The sheer wealth of settings available in Jitsi is also astonishing, allowing you to tweak specific timeout, port and other connection settings you may never actually need to change. The rest of the clients did not offer settings nearly this deep, and the codecs available were definitely a plus.

The rest of the selection had their own ups and downs: QuteCom could do with a small backend overhaul, where as Ekiga and Linphone had some limitations to their functionality in one way or another. Ekiga especially could be much better with a little more attention to detail and extra services.

The quality of the calls at this point depends entirely on your server, internet connection and hardware. All these clients include the most basic codecs to allow for decent calls, so making sure your server is up to scratch is the best way to make your calls just that little bit better. Jitsi is definitely the application to make the most of whatever you’ve set up.

This group test came from issue 139 of Linux User & Developer, grab it digitally from GreatDigitalMags.com!

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