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Nextcloud Talk: video conferencing the open way

For instant messaging I’ve been primarily using Telegram. I think it’s a good compromise between openness and features and mass adoption. It can also do encrypted audio calls, but it can’t do video calls and audio/video conferences of multiple people.

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That’s why I was looking for some tool for video calling and conferencing. I didn’t want something completely closed (Skype, Hangouts,…) and ideally something I can run on my server.

I’ve been a big fan of Nextcloud and running it on my Fedora VPS for 1,5 year. In my opinion it’s a great open platform for online services. They used to offer SpreedMe service which was pretty clumsy and difficult to install and I never fell for it. Fortunately they recently announced Nextcloud Talk, a complete rewrite, open source and based on WebRTC. Is it what I was looking for?

It requires Nextcloud 13, so I had to wait until this version was out this week. (I actually find it quite strange to announce and do a big PR for an app that requires a version of Nextcloud that hasn’t been released yet.) The installation is super-simple now. You just go to the application store, click “Enable”, and that’s it.

I’ve been using it for several days, so what is my experience with it? You can make calls with other users in your Nextcloud instance (it also supports federation, so you can extend it to users of other connected instances), but you can create a conference room to which you can invite other people via a link (can be protected by a password).

Besides basic audio and video calls it allows you to share a screen and there is a text chat available to participants which is handy e.g. for sharing links. It just works in modern browsers. You send someone a link, they open it, and you can start talking. Nextcloud Talk also have apps for Android and iOS, so you can join calls from your phone. But they can only do video and audio, they don’t support text chat yet and you can create a new call room in them.

Feature-wise Nextcloud Talk is already fairly close to Bluejeans, the enterprise solution we use for video conferencing in Red Hat.

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Are there any problems? It’s the first release, there definitely are. One-to-one calls between registered users work reliably. I can’t say the same about conference calls with unregistered users. I tested it with two colleagues of mine who I invited via a link. I could only see video of one of them, he could see me, but couldn’t see the other person… Also connecting all participants is not always reliable.

Nextcloud offers its own STUN server. In settings you can add more STUN servers or even TURN server (but it’s not very desirable because all traffic then goes through your TURN server). I wonder if that would help.

There are also some problems in the UI. You can close the panel with the chat, but the icon for getting it back is black and it’s placed in the black corner of the video output of the other person, so it’s invisible. The UI of the mobile app sometimes sort of freezes, so it’s impossible to hang up.

But overall Nextcloud Talk looks very promising as a solution for those who want to easily deploy a video conferencing system on their premise. As I said one-to-one calls already work well for me and I hope the video conferences of multiple people will improve with future releases or I will find settings that fix the problems I’m having.

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Fedora, GNOME, Linux

Nextcloud & Linux Desktop

I’ve used different services for my personal agenda and I always valued if they could well integrate into my Fedora Workstation. Some did it well, some at least provided a desktop app, some only had a web client. That’s fine for many people, but not for me. Call me old-school, but I still prefer using desktop applications and especially those who look and behave natively.

Last summer, I decided to install Nextcloud on my VPS. Originally I was planning to replace Dropbox with it, but then I found out I could actually use it for many other things, for all my personal agenda. Shortly after that I realized that I’d found what I was always looking for in terms of integration into my desktop. Nextcloud apps use standard protocols and formats and integrate very well with the desktop apps I use.

nextcloud

Nextcloud/ownCloud is supported by GNOME Online Accounts, so I log in to my server and automagically get this:

Files – my Nextcloud appears in Nautilus as a remote disk. I like that it doesn’t work like the official desktop client of Nextcloud or Dropbox and doesn’t sync files to the local drive. If you work with small files and documents remotely, you can hardly notice lags and they don’t consume space on your hard drive. If I want to work with large files (e.g. video) or offline, I just download them.

Documents – documents that are stored on your Nextcloud server appear among documents in GNOME Documents. The app makes an abstraction layer over different file sources and the user can work with documents no matter where they come from. A nice thing, but I’m a bit conservative in this and prefer working with files and Nautilus.

Contacts – the Nextcloud app for contacts uses CardDAV, so after a login in GOA your contact list appears in all applications that are using the evolution-data-server backend. In my case it’s Evolution and GNOME Contacts. Evolution is still my daily driver at work while I use the specialized apps at home.

Calendars – the calendar app for Nextcloud uses CalDAV, so after a login in GOA you get the same automagic like with contacts, your calendars appear in all apps that are using evolution-data-server. Again in my case it’s Evolution and GNOME Calendar.

Tasks – CalDAV is also used for tasks in Nextcloud, so if you enable calendars in GOA, your task lists will also appear in Evolution or GNOME Todo.

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GNOME Todo

Notes – the same applies to notes, you will also be able to automagically access them in Evolution or GNOME Bijiben.

News – the only thing I had to set up separately is a news reader. I use FeedReader which (among other services) supports Nextcloud/ownCloud, too. So I could replace Feedly with it and get a native client as a bonus.

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FeedReader

What’s really great is that except for the RSS reader everything is set up with one login. I’m done with Feedly, Evernote, Wunderlist and all those services that each require another login and generally have poor desktop integration. Now I can use Nextcloud, have all my data under control and get great and super-easy-to-setup integration into my desktop.

I can imagine even more areas where Nextcloud can improve my desktop experience. For instance, it’d be great if my desktop user settings could be synced via Nextcloud or I could back them up there and then restore them on my new machine. Or it’d be great if the desktop keyring could work with Passman and sync your passwords.

BTW integration into my Android phone is equally important to me and Nextcloud doesn’t fail me there either although setting it up was not as easy as in my Fedora Workstation. I needed to install CalDAV-Sync and CardDAV-Sync apps (DAVdroid which is officially recommended by Nextcloud never worked for me, a while back it didn’t want to sync my contact list at all, now it does, but doesn’t import photos). Then my contacts and calendars were synced to the default apps. For tasks I use OpenTasks. For RSS ownCloud/Nextcloud Reader and for notes MyOwnNotes. To access files Nextcloud provides their own app.

And if I’m not around my PC or phone, I can always access all the services via the web interface which is pretty nice, too. So all in all I’ve been really satisfied with Nextcloud and am really happy how dynamically it’s developing.