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Thursday, 21 May 2009 16:24

Ekiga 3.2 on Ubuntu 9.04

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The other day my partner left the market shopping list at home. I took a few minutes off from cleaning the house to try SMSing it to her using Skype, rather than using the small keyboard on my mobile. However I found that the latest Linux Skype client, version 2.0.0.72, does not include SMS functionality (amongst quite a few other features that Windows users have). Frustrated with Skype's treating Linux users like second-rate citizens, I resolved to see what alternatives there are to Skype. I started with Ekiga, which is pre-installed on Ubuntu. Read on to find out how I went getting rid of Skype and its limitations.

The version of Ekiga that is included with Ubuntu 9.04 is version 3.2. This is a reasonably new version and one of the biggest issues that I had was with documentation.
 
Most of the documentation I read was for older versions and many instructions referred to items that were no longer in the GUI. For example, there is no "Tools" menu in version 3.2. Let's see if I can help you with some of the other "gotchas" I encountered.
 
Firstly, there's a few parts to Ekiga. Ekiga.net is a VoIP provider, similar to Skype. They also provide a few other services, such as a call-echo service to check it all works and an Address Book system. Ekiga is the name of their VoIP software.

You can make direct Ekiga-to-Ekiga phone calls; you can call standard phone and SMS; and you can set it up to receive calls. The last part I haven't tested as I don't have such as service, so let's have a look at the first two.
 
Ekiga has it's own configuration wizard which is pretty straightforward, although a few of the field names could be changed for better clarification.
 
Begin by entering your name (this is used in Ekiga.net's address book). Next up, enter your Ekiga.net username and password or you can sign up for an Ekiga.net account. This is the address that people will use to call you for Ekiga-to-Ekiga calls.
 
Next in the Configuration Wizard is the option of creating an Ekiga Call Out account. This is required if you want to initiate calls to normal phones or send SMSs.

An external provider, DiamondCard.us, provides the link for these services. This is unlike Skype, which provides these services in-house. DiamondCard also enables you to send SMSs from their web interface.
 
Use the Ekiga Configuration Wizard to begin the process of getting a DiamondCard account. I found that the minimum amount for initial purchase was USD$10.00, which I paid using my PayPal account. 10% of that amount goes to Ekiga to support the project, and due to the Australian Dollar exchange rate variability I ended up with USD$9.31 in DiamondCard credit.
 
Using DiamondCard's web interface, you can set DiamondCard to use a default number (under Telephony, Options, Caller ID), such as your own mobile number. This is useful so that SMSs appear to come from that number.

All numbers must be in International format, so an Australian would begin with 61, a UK number would begin with 44 and a US number would begin with 1. This was a "gotcha" for me, as some of the documentation said you have to include 00 at the beginning, which is not required.
 
Note that the DiamondCard username and password are not the details you need for Ekiga! When you log into DiamondCard you'll see the account number and PIN number on the right-hand side. These are required for the Ekiga configuration. That was another "gotcha", as I couldn't get the system to register. When I used the correct account number and PIN details it all worked fine.
 
The final couple of steps in the Configuration Wizard ask about your connection speed, your audio devices (I left the defaults as they were) and your webcam (if you have one). The webcam I have on my Asus Eee PC 901 registered as CNF7129 (PTLIB/V4L2). I had to use the drop down to select it.
 
Please read on, to Page 2...
 

Once it is all setup, check that it has registered with the providers. Open up Edit, Accounts and check the status. Both of mine, Ekiga.net and Ekiga Call Out, say they're Registered. Now we are ready to rock and roll!
 
If you want to call an Ekiga user, after the sip: enter in their_username@ekiga.net and hit Enter or the green calling icon. Wait a few seconds for it to connect and have a chat with them!
 
If you want to call a normal phone, after the sip: enter in the phone number in International format, so calling an Australian mobile number would be sip:614xxxxxxxx@sip.diamondcard.us. The @sip.diamondcard.us is important as it makes sure that the call is routed through DiamondCard's system.
 
The next "gotcha" for me was to work out how to send SMSs. This proved to be quite difficult and involved a lot of reading a lot of documentation, most of which wasn't relevant to the version I was using. However, in the end the solution was remarkably simple.
 
It seems that there's no other way of doing this, so make a new contact (Chat, Add contact). Put in the phone number in the ever-present International format. Remember the @sip.diamondcard.us. Give the contact a meaningful name and select a category for them.
 
Back in the main window, right-click on the contact and select Message. At the bottom of the chat window, type your SMS and then hit Enter. If you don't see an error message, then it has been successful. You can also track your SMS's progress (and see what you wrote too) through the DiamondCard website.
 
That's pretty much it for the basics. And I can now ditch Skype on Ubuntu!
 
DiamondCard and Ekiga offer a lot more than just this, such as the ability to purchase incoming phone numbers (however, I found that these were limited to Sydney in Australia), but I will let you figure out the other features.
 
Post Script:  When researching this article, I came across the Skype for MID beta. Whilst not directly targeted for Linux PCs, it does work. The version number 3.0.0.93 indicates it is based on version 3 of the Windows client, so still doesn't have 100% of the functionality of the current Windows client.

However, it does offer a different and more useful GUI and you can SMS with it. It is beta software and there is no installer. You download the tar file, extract it, double-click on the skype executable and select Run.

So, while Skype are kind-of getting there with the MID client, I won't be holding my breath for that functionality in the actual Linux client.
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