Last week I wrote about the suboptimal state of instant messaging in Fedora Workstation with some thoughts how it could be improved. I also asked Fedora users on Facebook and Google+ what IM clients they use. Especially in the case of Google+, I gathered votes from a number of people which is large enough to draw some conclusions.
I used different methods on FB and G+ because unlike G+ FB doesn’t support polls, so I asked people to submit their answers in comments. That grew much fewer answers, but people were not biased by pre-picked answers. Here are the results:
As you can see there are pretty much just four IM clients that are widely used by Fedora users: Pidgin, Skype, Empathy, Telegram.
Google+ supports polls, so I created a poll where users could pick one of those answers: Empathy, Pidgin, KDE Telepathy, Other, or “I don’t use a desktop client”. Over 1200 users voted which is significantly more than on Facebook and gives a good statistical sample. And the results?
Pidgin is a clear winner, winning by a larger margin than among FB users. What is also interesting is the number of people who don’t use IM desktop clients any more – 37 %. This group is probably over-represented in this poll because it’s obvious that G+ users will favor web tools more than others since Google is such a proponent of web apps. I also asked users to add the name of their favorite IM client in the comments under the poll if it’s not among given options. And these are the results:
Even though I was asking about desktop clients, most people voted for Hangouts which is not surprising on Google+. Some of them even consider Hangouts a desktop app because the Chrome app can partly behave that way. Telegram is also very popular among Fedora users on Google+.
And some conclusions?
Empathy – in both surveys Empathy lost to Pidgin which is not a good score for a default client. If alternative clients are more popular than the default one, then the default one is not doing a good job. Based on the comments, what people don’t like about Empathy is that how it behaves in GNOME 3. Transforming it into a single window would probably solve most of the complaints, but in the long run Empathy would need much more than that and is anyone interested in developing it? Now, it’s totally dead upstream.
Pidgin – is the most popular IM client among Fedora users even though it was ousted from the position of the default client many years ago. People don’t seem to be very enthusiastic about it, it hasn’t seen any higher development activity for years, but it’s still the best what we have according to most users. Going back to Pidgin as the default client would probably be the safest option. Unlike Empathy, it doesn’t have integration with GNOME Online Accounts, but apparently it’s not a significant inconvenience for users if they still prefer Pidgin to Empathy. However, in the long run we will hit problems that are related to very little upstream development activity – no GTK 3 port, no Wayland support, no HiDPI support etc.
KDE Telepathy & Kopete – I was quite surprised that KDE clients got so few votes. KDE is not as popular as GNOME among Fedora users, but it has a sizable user base. Does this mean that KDE users don’t use desktop IM clients any more or do they prefer Pidgin? In comments, I found several users saying that they use Pidgin in KDE.
Telegram – I was really surprised by the popularity of Telegram. I personally don’t know anyone who uses it, but it looks like it could be the new #1 IM service for open source enthusiasts as Jabber was in the last decade. It’s the only (at least a bit popular) modern IM service that is trying to be open and focused on privacy. It has a Linux desktop app written in Qt. You can find it in Copr although it’s not packaged very well and the app is missing an icon. I’m not sure how easy it would be for the package to make it into the official repositories. The website says they’re using slightly modified Qt which could make it difficult. There is also a plugin for Pidgin which doesn’t support advanced features, but works well for simple chat communication (again available in Copr). If we pick Pidgin as the default browser again, we should have this plugin pre-installed since Telegram seems to be becoming more and more popular.
Skype – ended second among Fedora users on Facebook. This IM service seems to be very popular even after a decade of its existence. Skype can’t be included in Fedora due to its license, but they provide an RPM package and it’s pretty easy to install it. Its protocol is closed, so we can’t really have support for it in open source clients, but maybe we can do a better job in integrating it to the desktop since it’s so popular among our users?
Hangouts – another popular closed service. Well, it’s not closed completely. Google still allows users to connect via XMPP, but you won’t get the advanced features and according to their plans they want to drop XMPP support anyway. So looks like the only way to give users Hangouts in the future will be the Chrome web app. Integrating web apps is in our Fedora Workstation tasklist. So things like converting Chrome Rich Notifications into standard desktop notifications, or installing the most popular Chrome web apps directly in Software would be worth looking into.
Facebook Chat/Messenger – no one really mentioned Facebook Chat which now has its own app – Messenger. People probably still don’t see it as a standalone service or don’t consider it a desktop app in any way (unlike Hangouts). However, it’s probably the most popular IM service nowadays. It still supports XMPP, but AFAIK they’re planning to drop it as well. Until then it works well with both Empathy and Pidgin. But after they drop XMPP, we won’t have many choices left. Maybe we could at least provide the web app messenger.com through Software?
GNOME Chat – some people also suggested that we drop Empathy and create a new app that should be part of the GNOME core apps. It would be based on Telepathy, so nothing like building it from scratch. It would fit very well to GNOME 3 (unlike Empathy) and it wouldn’t suffer from problems of Pidgin (Wayland, HiDPI support,…). There are even some designs and even some existing code, but no one has touched it for two years. So it hasn’t really stirred a lot of interest among GNOME contributors.
It all comes down to a question whether we want to provide one well integrated client that supports several IM services and whether it will even be possible in the future because the most popular services are closed or going to be closed, or whether we should give up our client and rather focus on supporting and integrating those dedicated, very often closed source clients. I always preferred to have one integrated tool for all IM networks, but the world seems to be going the other direction.