Zooming Out

[N.B.: This is a guest piece kindly provided by gom (Mastodon and email is below as well), for whom I offered to publish this guide on my site. Any updates will come from them whenever necessary; all I have done is to format it as close to their original HTML code as possible and kept anchors intact. –grey]

– a provisional list of Zoom replacements –

For all of the video conferencing applications in the list, except Element, information about the number of participants/devices they can handle is now included. Many thanks to Ethan for thoroughly looking into this and sharing the information and his conclusions.

Also, Zooming Out is planned to become its own web site in the near future. In the meantime, grey is deserving of lots and lots of thanks for generously hosting it.

The thing about Zoom

Zoom is fairly easy to use and works most of the time. However, it has never been privacy-respecting or secure application, and due to the increase of use during the current COVID-19 crisis, many more issues have been exposed. You can read about some of them here, and here.

Luckily, there are quite a few reasonably private and secure alternatives to Zoom, many of which are very good, too.

While it’s generally better to replace Zoom with an application or service that’s more private and secure, doing so might not be an option for everyone. If so, at least make sure your settings in Zoom are set to protect yourself and others as much as possible, or perhaps try using a virtual machine for even more protection.

Lastly, before you delve into the list, try to remember why it’s worth that bit of extra effort to use private and secure video communication applications. Just like the COVID-19 crisis, the privacy crisis of our time (which has been further enhanced by the consequences of the pandemic), is not just a personal struggle. It’s also a struggle for what is good for all of us. We are all in this together, quite literally. By protecting ourselves, we are also protecting others.

And to all of you, including myself, that get easily overwhelmed and/or apathetic in the face of privacy and security issues. Please keep in mind that doing something, however insignificant it might seem, is always – always! – better than doing nothing.

Now, let’s get on with the list. Go directly to the list, or keep reading for some more information about the list, and about the included applications.

About the list

Further down in this text you’ll find a list of several different video communication applications, accompanied by some basic and, hopefully, useful information about them. The list is primarily meant to help, guide, or inspire anyone seeking to replace Zoom (or Skype, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts) with something that provides more privacy and security.

How the list came to be

During the initial phase of the COVID-19 crisis, I was forced to use Zoom for various purposes. Since it’s proprietary software I wasn’t too happy about this situation. And then when the major privacy and security flaws of Zoom were exposed, I felt I really needed to scrutinize the available, viable alternatives. That led to many nights of testing, lots of reading, and countless online conversations with people sharing their advice, experiences, and knowledge.

Soon, I had a handful of applications at hand, which made up the initial, shorter version of the list. But I felt it deserved to be in a more full-fledged format, and I also wanted to be able to more easily share this information. And so Zooming Out was born.

Sources of information

It’s important to note that the included information about the applications is based on my own as well as other’s testing and experiences, official documentation, and what could be called trustworthy online sources (for instance, those linked in the text). Naturally, such information can never be definitive or exhaustive, certainly not over time. Hence, the list is a provisional one, and will receive updates. At this point in time, however, it’s not possible to say how often.

Contributions to the list

If you feel some other application should be added to the list, or if you can provide some useful information that is not mentioned, feel free to send me an email. Of course, other kinds of suggestions or questions are welcome, too. If you do make contact, please try to be kind, and above all, try to remember the purpose of this list: to spread awareness of alternatives to Zoom, to as many people as possible.

About the applications in the list

In this section you’ll find various pieces of general information pertaining to the applications in the list.

How the applications were chosen

The applications in the list have been chosen based on the following criteria:

  • The software is free and open-source software
  • They run on several different platforms
  • They are fairly easy to use
  • They can be said to be reasonably private and secure

All of the applications are also possible to use free of charge. Remember, though, that development of these applications is most often dependent on donations, so please consider donating, if you can.

Applications for “average” video callers

The information about each application is arguably somewhat basic. But that’s part of the point: to be accessible. If you have some very specific needs pertaining to privacy and security, you might want to investigate each application more thoroughly. For the “average” video caller, however, this list is meant to give you the information you would need to make an informed decision.

WebRTC and IP leaks

Several of the listed applications use WebRTC, a communication protocol with some potential risk of leaking your IP address, even if using a VPN. However, this risk might depend on the quality of the VPN service in question.

The best way to mitigate WebRTC leaks, it seems, is to self-host the application in question. Freedombone and YunoHost are two good options for this. If you are not able, or willing, to self-host, which is understandable, then choose your instance/provider with some care. A good place to start is the Librehosters network, or this list. You can also make sure to use a VPN service that is privacy-respecting, secure, and of high quality, like Mullvad, ProtonVPN, or RiseupVPN.

Upload/download speeds

Finally, a few words about connections and upload/download speeds. Generally, wired connections seem to work a bit better with all of these applications, so consider using that instead of wireless connections. As a rule of thumb, download and upload speeds of about 1 Mbps/participant seems to work well. For an easy, and secure, way to keep track of your up/down speeds, try using LibreSpeed.

A provisional list of Zoom replacements

The list is divided into two sections. One with applications for video conferences (two or more participants/devices), and one for video calls (two participants/devices limitation).

Video conferencing (2 or more participants)

Video calling (2 participants)


Video conferencing

BigBlueButton

Links:

Platforms:

  • Android
  • GNU/Linux
  • iOS
  • macOS
  • Windows

Desktop client: No.

Launch in browser: Yes. Firefox and Chrome/Chromium/Edge/Opera etc. are recommended for desktops, Safari and Chrome for mobile devices.

Number of participants/devices: At least 20, and probably more, according to official documentation.

Considerations:

  • Uses WebRTC
  • No video in Safari (macOS), only audio.

Other:


Element (Matrix client)

Links:

Platforms:

  • Android
  • GNU/Linux
  • iOS
  • macOS
  • Windows

Desktop client: Yes.

Launch in browser: Yes. Firefox and Chrome/Chromium/Edge/Opera etc. are recommended for desktops.

Considerations:

  • Uses WebRTC for video conferencing (This was true when Element was still called Riot.im, but maybe not any more – this needs to be updated!)
  • If launched in browser, there’s no video in Safari (macOS), only audio.
  • Requires registration with email.

Other:


Jami

Links:

Platforms:

  • Android
  • FreeBSD
  • GNU/Linux
  • iOS
  • macOS
  • Windows

Desktop client: Yes.

Launch in browser: No.

Number of participants/devices: At least 16, and probably more, according to official documentation.

Considerations:

  • Requires registration, but no email or real name.
  • For video conferencing, participants have to be added one by one.

Other:


Jitsi Meet

Links:

Platforms:

  • Android
  • GNU/Linux
  • iOS
  • macOS
  • Windows

Desktop client: Not really – a desktop client is available, but it’s not officially maintained and the latest stable version is from 2017.

Launch in browser: Yes. Firefox and Chrome/Chromium/Edge/Opera are recommended for desktops.

Number of participants/devices: Up to 50, using the main instance. However, using other instances, 50+ participants could be possible.

Considerations:

  • Uses WebRTC.
  • No video in Safari (macOS), only audio.

Other:


Nextcloud Talk

Links:

Platforms:

  • Android
  • GNU/Linux
  • iOS
  • macOS
  • Windows

Desktop client: Yes.

Launch in browser: Yes, but video will probably work best in Firefox and Chrome/Chromium/Edge/Opera etc.

Number of participants/devices: Up to 20, according to official documentation – but with reservations. If all participants use fast connections, up to 20 should work. Otherwise, it’s recommended that participants turn off video. It is, however, probable that about 3-5 participants should work fine with video.

Considerations:

  • Uses WebRTC.
  • No video in Safari (macOS), only audio.

Other:


Signal

Links:

Platforms:

  • Android
  • GNU/Linux
  • iOS
  • macOS
  • Windows

Desktop client: Yes.

Launch in browser: No.

Number of participants/devices: Up to 8, according to official documentation.

Considerations:

  • Requires a phone number.
  • Relies on centralized servers.

Other:

  • The desktop application has to be linked to a phone with the application installed, but operates independently after that.

Video calling

Linphone

Links:

Platforms:

  • Android
  • GNU/Linux
  • iOS
  • macOS
  • Windows

Desktop client: Yes.

Launch in browser: No.

Considerations:

  • Requires registration with email.

qTox (Tox client)

Links:

Platforms:

  • Android
  • FreeBSD
  • GNU/Linux
  • iOS
  • macOS
  • Windows

Desktop client: Yes.

Launch in browser: No.

Considerations:

  • Requires registration, but no email or real name.

Other:

  • While being secure and easy to use, qTox (or any Tox client) is probably better suited for anonymous chats and audio calls than video communication

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