Ekiga, a free alternative to Skype

It’s official: Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5bn early in the morning, as reported by AllThingsD yesterday. Google and Facebook were already developing deals with the VoIP communications company, but were stopped neat by MS. Here are a few interesting lines about MS’s reasons to buy the firm.

  • Skype gives Microsoft a  boost in the enterprise collaboration market, thanks to Skype’s voice, video and sharing capabilities, especially when competing with Cisco and Google.
  • It gives Microsoft a working relationship with carriers, many of them looking to partner with Skype as they start to transition to LTE-based networks.
  • It would give them a must-have application/service that can help with the adoption of the future versions of Windows Mobile operating system.
  • However, the biggest reason for Microsoft to buy Skype is Windows Phone 7 (Mobile OS) and Nokia. The software giant needs a competitive offering to Google Voice and Apple’s emerging communication platform, Facetime.

Skype was already a problem for the free software community – the FSF has an high-priority project about finding free replacements – but it has grown into a bigger ache as Microsoft acquires it.

Skype is used by 124 million people per month, and other non-free software gather most other users, such as Windows Live Messenger (330 million users/month).

VoIP communications free softwares are slowly emerging – and they’ve got their way to make -, but have a growing user database. Two of them are Ekiga and QuteCom. They’re quoted by the FSF as replacements to Skype, but we don’t know much about them. So let’s introduce them!

Ekiga is a “SoftPhone, video conferencing and instant messaging application, supporting HD sound quality and video up to DVD size and quality”. A few features:

  • Ease of use with a modern Graphical User Interface.
  • Audio and Video free calls through the internet.
  • Free Instant Messaging through the internet with Presence support.
  • Audio (and video) calls to landlines and cell phones with support to the cheapest service providers.
  • High Definition Sound (wideband) and Video Quality up to DVD quality (high framerate, state of the art quality codec and frame size).
  • Free of choice of the service provider.
  • SMS to cell phones if the service provider supports it (like the default provider).
  • Standard Telephony features support like Call Hold, Call Transfer, Call Forwarding, DTMF.
  • Remote and Local Address Book support: Remote Address Book support with authentification using the standard LDAP technology, Local Address support in Gnome (Evolution).
  • Multi platform: Windows and GNU/Linux
  • Wide interoperability: Ekiga use the main deployed stantards for telephony protocols (SIP and H.323) and has been tested with a wide range of softphones, hardphones, PBX and service providers.

You can go here for a full list: it’s quite long. I’ve been using Ekiga for 4-5 months now, and I consider it as the most advanced Skype free alternative. It has probably the biggest community of all free softphones apps (among Twinkle, Coccinella and QuteCom).

Ekiga’s interface is really simple, and it makes it easy to use.

 

Posted in Internet

Ad companies track you: stop them!

Ad companies have literally invaded Internet and are now appealed by tons of firms. It wouldn’t be so bad, despite seeing ads all over pages while browsing, if they didn’t track you. In order to ‘enhance your surfing experience’, ‘optimize ads to suit your needs’ – a few arguments all of the ad companies use -, they use lots of cookies to track your actions; pages you visit, your purchases (if you buy on Internet), sites the most often seen, etc. This data is collected and then they can provide you ‘personalized ads’. Take a look at this chart: this really works!

Chart: Willingness to click on a personalized ad

But, wait – all of this is nice, yet your privacy is seriously ruined. You should be able to control your information.
Now, let’s see how to do so: you’ll want to ‘opt-out’ of these ad companies, i.e. they will stop providing personalized ads. Ideally, you can opt-out of all of them, but there are so many that you can just opt-out of -most- of them.

There are two ways I like to do so: install the PrivacyChoice Trackerblock plugin, or go to Selectout.org. If you use Selectout, you’ll initially get cookies from lots of ad companies telling them you have opted-out, but you must do it again when you delete them.
The second choice is Trackerblock. It doesn’t actually opt you out, but it blocks data collection, meaning the ad company can’t get your data. Get it for Firefox or Chrome; you’ll have to choose what you want to opt-out of. I recommend selecting all.

Trackerblock

PrivacyChoice compares some privacy tools on this list. I’ve used all of them, but Trackerblock appears as the most efficient one for me.

PS: for further protection, use NoScript (Firefox) or NotScripts (Chrome). It allows you to filter JavaScripts on every site; ad companies most likely use them.

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Posted in Internet, Privacy

Iron: a safe and free browser

Iron is one of those browsers that focuses on your privacy and security by greatly enhancing them. Based on Chromium, it removes the unsafe tools and features originally present in Google Chrome (see a full list here). It is licensed under the BSD license, thus it is free software.

Iron concerns most of the people who have their browser filled with privacy addons – ABP, NoScript, BetterPrivacy, etc -, as it includes all the necessary tools to ensure a safe browsing, such as integrated ad blocker and changeable user-agent. As said above, it gets rid of insecure things in Chrome like installation-ID, RLZ tracking, URL tracker,  the ‘suggest’ feature, alternate error pages or error reporting. Generally, these allow Google to track you by sending all this data to their servers; not so cool, right?

Iron - Wikipedia

Yet, Iron keeps all the good stuff from Chrome: “extremely fast site rendering, a sleek design and innovative features” (and works exactly the same way). It should also reduce your RAM usage since the privacy/security addons you have are directly built into the browser, and please Firefox users which uses an average of 500Mb (addons included), as well as Chrome users who want to protect themselves.

The SRWare team – a German developing team – made this possible, hence the full name SRWare Iron.

Last but not least, let me remind you that browsing safely is one of the most important freedom you (can) have: you do not deserve to be tracked by companies!

You can download Iron from the official website.

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Posted in Internet

Compile a new kernel on Debian

Debian Squeeze (or 6) is shipped with Linux kernel 2.6.32. However, back in November 2010, Phoronix announced a wonderful patch for the kernel which includes 200 lines of magic: they reduce the maximum latency by 10, and the average latency by 60. It is now integrated in the 2.6.38 kernel: we’ll see how to compile & install it on Debian.

First of all, you’ll need to install the following packages: fakeroot, kernel-package and the kernel source code.

1. Install the packages fakeroot, kernel-package and download the kernel source code.

2. Extract the kernel source code to /usr/src/.

3. Inside the kernel source code directory, open a terminal and type make xconfig to configure the kernel in a window or type make menuconfig (dependency: libncurses5-dev required) if you want a basic configuration menu in the terminal. The kernel default configuration works perfectly on my Debian PC, but you may want to configure it to suit your needs.

4. Once this is done, use make-kpkg clean to clean the source tree & reset the kernel-package parameters.

5. Compiling time! You must be the root user, so check twice before you do anything. Type fakeroot make-kpkg –initrd –revision=custom.1.0 kernel_image. You can change the “1.0” at will: it’s just used to keep track of your own kernel builds. Compiling takes a lot of time, i.e. 2-3 hours, so wait patiently.

6. We’ve now got an image of the kernel as a .deb package. Make sure you’re in the directory containing the image, and type dpkg -i linux-image-2.6.38.5-subarchitecture-custom.1.0_i386.deb. The subarchitecture part is an optional sub-architecture, such as “686”, depending on what kernel options you set; if you use the default configuration, just type dkpg -i linux-image-2.6.38.5-custom.1.0_i386.deb.

7. Reboot and see if you have any error messages (unlikely to happen).

8. (Optional) Make sure the kernel has been updated: type uname -r in a terminal, it should return 2.6.38.5.

Nota bene: I know backport packages have been released for the 2.6.38 kernel, but this will work with -any- kernel, so you don’t have to wait for backport packages when there aren’t.

There is another way to compile the kernel, which simply consists in using make deb-pkg in the kernel source code directory; this article only explains how to compile it the “Debian way”.

Last but not least, I am not responsible for any damage done to your computer. There’s no reason to have any problem except if you haven’t properly followed the steps.

Original article: Compiling a New Kernel — debian.org. Retrieved and shortened.

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Posted in GNU/Linux

Listen to free music with Jamendo

For a long time, we had not heard about free music, but thanks to services such as Jamendo, MusicBrainz or Dogmazic, it has been rising and shining for a few years now. Mostly licensed under Creative Commons licenses, you’re able to listen and download free music for no cost whatsoever, while it allows artists to promote themselves and build up a fan community. For once, you won’t be sued by RIAA and get into debt after they win a case in court against you… yes, forget about that.

As I made an account on Jamendo, I discovered TONS of new music and artists and it opened my musical horizons… obviously what I needed, since I’m a musician! You’ll find anything you want to listen to: rock, electro, pop, jazz, blues, house. When I started using Jamendo, I first (and wrongly) thought the musicians would be poor amateurs. They all revealed to be amazing, each bringing their own part in the music they compose.

Ambush on All Sides - TenPenny Joke

 

There isn’t a proper search engine on Jamendo; it works with a tag cloud system, which is better for both listeners and artists: the first don’t stop themselves to one music genre, while it gives the second a better chance to be listened to. You can subscribe for a free account, which is useful for saving your favorite music, or for a ‘PRO’ one — for professionals — if you need a background music in your shop/business or for a multimedia project. Normal listeners will prefer a free account.

Try Jamendo, and open your ears wide for musical awesomeness!

Jamendo: http://www.jamendo.com/

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Posted in Internet, Music

Trisquel 4.5 Slaine – “Run free!”

“Run free”, says Trisquel’s slogan. And this is what it’s about — Trisquel is one of the few totally free GNU/Linux distributions, as recognized by the FSF. Based on Ubuntu, it rejects all of the “non-free applications, non-free programming platforms, non-free drivers, or non-free firmware ‘blobs'” included in the original distro. However, does this removal deeply affects the performances of Trisquel? Let’s see that.

First of all, Trisquel looks very complete even while using the Live CD. It has everything needed to be ran properly, a few applications — about as much as a newly-installed Debian, but less than Ubuntu — and you can start right off your work.

Trisquel 4.5 "Slaine" desktop.

Leafing through Synaptic (the package manager), you might be greatly impressed by the huge number of proprietary software replacements, from Adobe’s Flash Player to a myriad of other non-free stuff. This somehow proves the force of the free software community, doesn’t it? Trisquel succeeds there, by bringing an amazingly perfomant distribution to this community, and delivers a great work-tool that you can use without any remorse; you’re not using proprietary software, after all!

Trisquel has its own design, which is simple, clear and clean, which makes it easy for everyone to use it; you don’t need to be an expert. And one great thing is that it’s very portable, i.e. it will run perfectly on just a Live CD.

‘Slaine’ should work on most computers. It requires 700Mb for a default installation.

Feel free to try it!

Trisquel: http://trisquel.info/en

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Posted in GNU/Linux

Ubuntu 11.04 vs. Debian Squeeze

I’ve recently installed Debian on an old PC to give it a second life, while keeping Ubuntu on my main computer. Here are my feelings for both of them:

Ubuntu 11.04

To put it simply: what a shame! I was greatly disappointed by Ubuntu 11.04. I first upgraded from 10.10, but found out the Linux 2.6.38 kernel had not been installed and I still had the 2.6.35. Thus, I reinstalled it from scratch after making lengthy documents saves. At first sight, nothing really changed… until I logged in and saw this.

Ubuntu Unity

That’s it, Ubuntu’s new graphical interface, the long-awaited Unity. Quickly playing up with it, it reveals to be a mess and a precocious project — surely not suitable for such a distro. Even though some will love it, Canonical (if you didn’t know it, it’s the firm which owns Ubuntu) took an enormous risk to ship Unity at an early step of its development. It has still got to ‘grow up’ — but it’s very similar to GNOME 3, the newest version, although it was not used in Ubuntu 11.04 because of Canonical’s disagreement with this project (they wanted to add their touch).  I’m confident Unity can be good, but it’s not ready yet.

This aside, a few applications were replaced (we’ll note the switch to LibreOffice), but new features are lacking. I somehow had the feeling Ubuntu has ceased a larger place to proprietary softwares in this new release.

As a conclusion, I’d say Ubuntu 11.04 didn’t deserve all the ‘buzz’ it was surrounded with but should rather keep it quiet for a bit, until Canonical comes with something more acceptable.

Debian Squeeze

Debian was the huge surprise to me. I thought I’d quickly try it, but it now reigns as a king on my old PC. It’s simple, fast and efficient, and doesn’t come with a ton of useless apps, as Ubuntu does. Although it looks modest, Debian is yet powerful and gives the user many ways to use it: though it is a bit harsh for newcomers to GNU/Linux, someone with a bit of experience can run it perfectly.

Debian Squeeze desktop.

Squeeze comes with Linux kernel 2.6.32, GNOME 2, basic apps installed but no programming tools whatsoever — you have to install GCC and other utilities yourself. Even though the kernel looks a bit old (for those who desperately want the 200 ‘magic’ code lines in the 2.6.38), it is really easy to compile a new one and install it; this is what I did. Debian’s repositories are constantly updated and provide you lots of new apps, which avoids compiling -lots- of programs.

Also, let’s not forget Debian has a huge community with lots of developers and users.

Conclusion

Ubuntu comes as an acceptable distribution for newcomers to GNU/Linux, but if you do have any previous experience, you should definitely try Debian, if you have not already. It is really worth the try and shouldn’t be missed. No wonder Ubuntu’s a Debian-based distribution!

Ubuntu: http://www.ubuntu.com/

Debian: http://www.debian.org/

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Posted in GNU/Linux