I bought a webcam for my laptop for an overseas trip so I can make video calls cheaply, without researching first about the webcam’s compatibility with Linux. It’s an A4Tech Notecam Clip-On. So before any of the fun stuff could happen, I needed to know if it was working or not. After a bit of searching, I stumbled upon Camorama (it’s in the Ubuntu repositories). The good thing is that it worked! No installation, no pop-up dialogs, nothing, just plug it in, and it’s in. It came with a driver CD for Windows; take note, Windows users, my Linux box doesn’t need driver discs.
Camorama can be used to test if your camera is feeding video information to your computer, and also for taking pictures or recording videos. However, for my particular camera, it couldn’t adjust the color correctly. I was worried that the linux driver for my camera had a problem. Well a badly-colored videocam feed is better than no feed at all.
Next up was research. What program do I use with my webcam for video calling? Gaim/Pidgin is a multiple-IM client capable of connecting not only to Y!Messenger, but also to MSN, AIM, GoogleTalk, etc., but couldn’t do video because these companies use private and proprietary protocols with their networks they want to keep private. I wanted to be able to call Yahoo! Messenger clients, so like what I usually do when I’m clueless about something, I hit the Ubuntu Forums and do search (or post a question if search results aren’t fruitful). Sure enough, there was a thread that answered my question. After a conversation with Loell, another UF member, I tried the following applications to see which best suited my needs.
Kopete is a multiple-IM for KDE, though you can still use it in GNOME. It has a nice, clean interface which I think looks better than Gaim. Trying out the webchat feature, I was able to connect to my Y!M buddies. However, while the person on the other end could see my video stream, all I got was a single frame. The first frame of what is supposed to be a video stream (at best, I managed to get another frame a few minutes later). Also, there was no audio with the webchat.
First of all, I would like to state that this is my personal opinion: I really hate Gyachi’s interface. The first screen you see looks like a mess, or at best an old, unsophisticated Win95 program. The buttons are cluttered, and I really can’t make sense of the interface. But I was able to try out the webchat feature, and it worked. But like Kopete, webcam with audio was a no-go. Supposedly, you have to start audio chat aside from your webchat do get around this, but I never was able to make audio chat work either. So either I use Kopete or this for webchat without video. And I’d rather the clean Kopete interface than this. As a small saving grace though, Gyachi notifies you when your buddies sign in as invisible, so there’s no hiding from a person with Gyachi.
Wengo and Ekiga
Taking a different approach, why not just use a softphone for VoIP? Ubuntu has Ekiga by default, and unlike Skype which uses its own proprietary protocol, Ekiga is SIP-protocol compliant. In human terms, Skype can connect to Skype only, while Ekiga can connect to ANY SIP phone. Linux Skype can’t make video calls by the way, so that’s automatically out. So why not Wengo instead of Ekiga? Wengo is more fully featured than Ekiga. Wengo can be installed in Windows, Mac, and Linux, it can make SMS as well as calls to real phones anywhere in the world (I loaded it up with 10euros, which is the minimum. Calls and SMS are really cheap by the way), and it’s also a multi-IM client.
In conclusion, while I never got webcamming with Yahoo!Messenger solved, it was a good learning experience, without which I would have never learned about Wengo, to which I’m casting my vote. It solved the day for webcam with voice, I just have to convince whoever I need to talk to to download the client, but it’s not that hard since Wengo is really a good client, better than Skype. It still has some kinks, which I’m sure will soon be solved by the open source community behind it as more and more people start using it.