The three most common video conferencing options for Linux computers are Skype, Google Hangouts and Jitsi. Of these, the least secure option is Skype. If you use Skype, you should just assume that the video conference is being monitored and recorded by someone you do not know. Google Hangouts is only slightly better than Skype. So if you are an attorney, or doctor or reporter or political activist and you want a secure video conference system, your only real option is Jitsi. Jitsi is a video conferencing tool which is like Skype and which supports Windows Linux and Mac. However, unlike Skype, the video conference can be encrypted. The encryption does not affect voice quality. The video conference can be password protected with encrypted passwords.
In this article, we will explain how to set up and use Jitsi. But first, a few words about setting up Skype and/or Google Hangouts. Setting up Skype is very easy because there is a version of Skype made for the Linux operating system. To download it, go to the Mint Software Manager and type in Skype into the Search Box. Then click on Skype and click Install.
Skype will then appear with the rest of your programs in the Mint Menu programs area. Just click on it to open Skype. It works just like the Windows Skype program. You enter your user name and then start or join a Skype Video conference. For anything more than two people, you need to have a paid account.
Google Hangouts is not only more secure than Skype, it also allows you to invite and talk to more people at the same time. You can have as many as 10 people in the video conference without needing a paid account. You do need a high speed Internet connection for Google Hangouts to work. But you also need a high speed Internet connection for Skype or Jitsi to work. To set up a Google Hangouts video conference, simply get a Google Gmail address. Then click on the small square icons in your Google Gmail page to reach your Google Plus account. In the left side menu, just click on Google Hangouts to start a new video conference. If it is your first Google Hangouts video conference, you will need to download a small app. But this only takes a second and then the video conference screen will appear. Google Hangouts is vastly superior to Skype. But it is not secure. For a private, secure video conference, the only option available right now is Jitsi.
Before we get started, it is important to note that Jitsi is not appropriate for older computers with limited speed and limited RAM – but then neither is Skype or Google Hangouts! Also, there are versions of Jitsi for Windows Mac and Android in addition to Linux. So you and your friends do not need a Linux computer to use Jitsi. But if you want a secure computer for secure video conferencing, then the most secure computers are Linux computers. The first step in setting up a Jitsi Video Conference is getting a jit.si XMPP account for you and others you want to have a conference with.
Create an XMPP account
Jitsi works with several types of accounts. But the most secure is called an XMPP account. With an XMPP account, you can do encrypted audio calls, video calls, desktop streaming, video conferencing, call recording, and file transfers. XMPP stands for Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol. The service is free and open source. Because XMPP is decentralized, it is the most secure system. We will therefore set up free XMPP accounts for each of our conference participants. Go to the Jitsi.org Home page and click on Jitsi in the top menu. Then click on XMPP Services
Then fill in this form
If you want, you can also enter your Name and email address. But you really only need a user name and password. Choose a long password you do not use for anything else. Be sure to write down your user name and password. It will say new account successfully created.
Jitsi, like Skype is available in the Mint Software Manager. Just go to Menu, Software Manager, and type Jitsi into the Search box. Then click Jitis and click Install.
This installs version 2.4. Version 2.8 can be directly downloaded from jitsi.org. You can also try version 2.9 if you want the latest features and do not mind a little bit of instability. We will use Jitsi 2.8 Stable Line.
Click on Ubuntu packages. Then scroll down the list to jitsi_2.8 and select the amd 64 bit version. The file size currently is 22 MB. It was last modified on March 19 2015 Click Download.
Click Save File. Then click OK. It is a big file and will take a minute to download even with a high speed connection. To see if it is done, open your Mint File Manager and click on the Downloads folder to open it. When is says 22.8 MB for the file size, then it is fully downloaded. Left click on the file to select it. Then right click on the file and select the GDEB Package Installer to install it. It will warn you that there is an older version in the Mint Software Manager. Click OK.
Then click Install Package. When it says Installation Finished. Click Close.
To launch Jitsi, click on the Mint menu, then search for Jitsi. Here is the Sign In screen.
As Google and Facebook are not very secure, we will use XMPP. However, for the first log in, it is best to click Cancel in the lower right corner of the Sign In screen. This will leave the main Jitsi window. Then restart Jitsi.
Click File, Add New Account.
This will bring up the Add New Account screen.
Click on the Dropdown arrow, move the scroll bar to the bottom and select XMPP Account.
This brings up the XMPP account screen.
Then click Add. You should now appear online in Jitsi.
To add a friend, first create a group to place your friends in. Click File, Create Group. Name it My Friends and Family. Then click Create.
Then click File Add Contact. Use the Drop down arrow to select our group. Select a group. Type in the friend’s jit.si account user name and their normal name.
Then click Add. Your friend will see a window asking them to confirm that you are their friend.
When they confirm, you will see the following screen.
Below is the Jitsi window after adding a couple of contacts.
To place a video call to a friend, first select their name. The icon at the left sends a text message, the phone sends a phone call, the camera provides a video call connection. The next one shares the desktop. The last icon allows you to add this person to your contact list. Then click on the camera icon. After about one minute, your friend will hear a ring and see a screen asking them to join in the video call. After they accept, and assuming your camera and sound are on, you will both see and hear each other.
If you have no sound when on voice call, look at the Call window. Check that the microphone meter shows movement when you make noise. If you see a line through the microphone icon, that means the microphone is muted for the current call. Click the microphone icon again to unmute. Check that the headphone meter shows movement when your friend makes noise. If not, have your friend check their microphone. Also check that your computer speakers/headphones is not muted. If you still can not hear each other, go to the Jitsi menu and click on Tools then Options. Then click on the Audio tab. Under Audio System “Port Audio” is recommended for Linux. Under Audio In verify that you see movement on the meter when you make noise. Movement on the meter shows that your microphone is picking of sounds and Jitsi has access to the correct microphone. If you do not see movement in the meter try selecting different options from the Audio In drop-down menu. If none of the options work verify that your microphone is not muted, or the volume turned down. Check both the Mint operating system microphone sound settings and any physical hardware - if you have an external microphone, is it plugged into the correct socket? Under Audio Out click the Play button. You should hear a breath noise. If you do not hear a noise try selecting different options from the Audio Out drop-down menu. If none of the options work verify that your sound is not muted, or the volume turned down.
Poor Internet connection With less bandwidth available the audio quality suffers. For example, if you have a weak wireless signal, try moving closer to the wireless WiFi adapter. To expand to full screen, click on the bottom icon.
It is likely that you will see some encryption questions at the bottom of the screen. If you do not need security and encryption, just close this window. For encryption, just call your contact and click the red-colored ZRTP lock symbol. Once the connection is secured, it will turn green. Note that you may not hear the contact until after a secure connection is established. There will be a set of letters you will have to confirm to make sure the call is encrypted. Once it is green, your call is now encrypted. Note that Jitsi may still be running even after you thought you turned it off. To really turn it off, right click on the icon in the task bar and select Quit.
Multi-person Video Conferencing using the Jitsi Bridge
You can also have a secure online meeting with as many people as you want:
Here is another example of a Jitsi video bridge.
Next click on Tools, Create a Conference Call
The drawback of this system is that it appears we will need to set up a special server to use this system – a project that is beyond the scope of this book. To close Jitsi, there are two steps. First. close the Jitsi Window.
Then close Jitis in the bottom right panel. By left clicking on the icon. Then right clicking and clicking Quit.
Our final article will cover the future of the free exchange of knowledge, the free Internet and our freedom to live in a democracy.