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By jeremy at 2006-08-10 13:38
Keeping Lines Open
Features - Power Tools
Written by Jeremy Garcia

Combine a modern computer with the Internet and you can stay in touch with your family and friends, regardless of distance. Email is by far the most popular form of long-distance communication: it’s highly-reliable, it’s virtually free to use, and capable email applications come bundled with every operating system (or you can just go to the web and access any number of free email portals).

But very quickly, other, much more dynamic ways to communicate via computer are emerging — all the while with the same great price tag and ubiquity as email. Based on open or de facto standards, you can now talk (literally) and “chat” (via instant messaging) to your far flung chums just as easily as clicking Compose.

Gizmo, while not open source, utilizes open standards such as the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Jabber/XMPP to keep you connected. Available from , Gizmo currently supports Linspire, Debian, Fedora, and SUSE Linux. (Support for other distributions should be coming soon.) Gizmo is provided in standard package formats (either RPM or DEB), so installation is a snap.

The first time you start Gizmo, it gives you the option to create an account. Each Gizmo account has a traditional username, but is also assigned a SIP “phone” number that enables you to communicate with other networks that support SIP. Specifically, you can make a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) call to any other Gizmo or SIP user free-of-charge.

Calling another Gizmo user is as easy as entering his or her username and clicking the green Connect button. To place a VoIP call to someone not using Gizmo, enter their SIP number and click Connect. To contact someone not using SIP at all, you can use Gizmo’s “Call Out” feature to connect to any mobile phone or landline for just one cent per minute for a call witiin the United States. (While not free, the one cent rate is typically less than most telephone service providers’ charges.) Meanwhile, the “Call In” feature lets you to pick a phone number in a variety of area codes within the U.S. or United Kingdom that can be called from any mobile or landline phone. Gizmo also sports a variety of other voice features, including call recording, conference calling, and the ability to use your account with a standard telephone using a SIP adapter.

In addition to VoIP, Gizmo also supports the Jabber XMPP protocol for instant messaging (IM). Since Gizmo is part of the IM Federation ( , IMF), you can connect to anyone using a client also in the IMF, including Google Talk, GAIM, iChat, and many others. To access Gizmo’s IM features, simply click the blue IM button in the lower left corner.

Speaking of GAIM ( ), it’s an entirely open source application that reverse engineers proprietary protocols, such as Oscar, to connect to “closed source” IM clients. GAIM, which is licensed under the GPL, is currently compatible with AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!,IRC, Jabber/XMPP, Gadu-Gadu, SILC, GroupWise Messenger, and Zephyr networks. Better yet, GAIM allows you to simultaneously login to multiple accounts on disparate networks. You can chat with your sister, brother, and girlfriend, using MSN, AIM, and Yahoo!, say, while also conversing in an IRC room. Nearly every distribution offers a GAIM package, but if you need to install from source, it’s the usual ./configure&&make&&make install dance.

Once installed, start GAIM and select “Tools & Accounts” from the menu to enter your existing account information. (If you don’t have an existing account for a certain service, you’ll have to create one via its official method. You can’t, for example, create an AIM account from within GAIM.) Once your accounts are set up, check both the “Online” and “Auto-login” boxes. Now, every time you start GAIM, you will log into all of your networks automatically and be ready to gab. GAIM also supports a modular plugin system, which allows you to add features not included in the base release. While not supported yet, both video and voice features are slated for the next major release, 2.0.0, which is currently being publically tested.

Gizmo and GAIM provide easy and inexpensive options to keep in touch with family and friends, largely no matter how those people are connected. Of course, since Gizmo and GAIM are available on nearly every platform, now your bubbe can complain, “Why haven’t you messaged?” Oye gevalt!


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