Social from the Start
Although on the surface Empathy may seem a powerful and flexible instant-messaging client, but limited to textual messaging, it also packs in some other interesting features. The Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala shipped Empathy for the first time with its audio and video support. With it, you can have live voice and video calls with your contacts.
Audio chat works with most networks and people who are connected to Empathy with a working microphone. For those contacts with whom you can videochat, they are indicated with a small Webcam icon next to their names in the Empathy contact list. To start a call, simply right-click a contact and select either Audio Call or Video Call. A new window appears and the call is initiated.
Another feature that a lot of people are unaware of in Empathy is desktop sharing. With it, you can share your desktop with contacts so they can control it remotely, moving your mouse and typing on your desktop. This is handy for helping people fix problems or for collaborating on projects. Sharing your desktop requires a fairly meaty Net connection on both sides, so don't try to use it if you have limited bandwidth. If you want to give it a try, simply right-click a contact and select Share My Desktop.
With Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx, the Social from the Start initiative has really started to embed into the desktop and operating system. With it, you can tweet from your desktop to a wide variety of networks, have text, audio, video and desktop sharing support with all of your contacts in one place, and aggregate the many different messages that you need all in one place—the messaging menu. These different components have been designed to fit neatly together, sharing many of the design and interaction characteristics to provide a smooth, consistent and fluid user experience.
Although the experience is exciting in itself, the machinery under the hood is even more compelling. Empathy and Gwibber are at the forefront of innovation in messaging. Empathy, part of the GNOME desktop, is based on the Telepathy framework, a powerful set of tools for communicating over different networks and mediums, and aggregating these different mediums together. Although Empathy is the front end, the underlying Telepathy framework is opening up tremendous opportunities for applications in the future. We can thank Collabora Multimedia in England for much of the work on this.
In the same vein, at the heart of Gwibber is the Gwibber API. Although Gwibber provides the user experience we care about, the Gwibber API fulfills a means for application developers to tweet from their application. I myself used this in a program, and I added support to tweet a message with merely three lines of Python. These technologies provide developers with the ability to build modern social-networking features into their applications, continuing to build huge value in the open-source desktop.
It is an exciting time in the Linux desktop world, and this article has covered merely the beginning of the journey. This may be the start, but there is a long road ahead of us—it is time to get ever more social.
Jono Bacon is the Ubuntu Community Manager at Canonical, author of The Art Of Community published by O'Reilly, founder of the Community Leadership Summit and co-presenter on Shot Of Jaq and FLOSSWeekly.