Skype Out - Pidgin In

Recently, myself and my colleagues at Pelagicore decided to try to ditch Skype for an open replacement. We have been suffering stability issues with Skype for a long time, but our customers rely on it for contact with us and most people know how it works. However, recent events such as Microsoft buying Skype and cancelling support for Asterisk motivated us to try the alternatives.

What we want to avoid is some sort of lock-in, and at the same time, we want it to be easy to have people join. After some discussions and tests we decided to go for Jabber and libjingle. This is what Google Talk uses, so anyone using GMail is automatically in. This was a big benefit for us, as we run Google Apps on our domain.

So, first out was trying video and voice directly from within the web interface to Google Apps. Our tests show that this works out of the box on both OS X and Linux, Chrome as well as Firefox. However, this does not take care of the lock-in situation that we wanted to avoid.

Next step - Pidgin! Pidgin is available prepackaged for Windows, OS X, CentOS/RHEL, Fedora, Ubuntu - and as source code of course. Having installed it, video and audio seems to just work. Again - great success. File transfers also work great, so Skype is more or less replaced when it comes to our needs.

So, how is Pidgin configured for this? There are a number of guides for configuring Pidgin with Google Talk using a GMail account. For myself, I had to do some tweaking to get it to work with our Google App setup. So, here is the configuration I'm using:

On the Basic tab:

  • Protocol: XMPP
  • User name: john.doe
  • Domain:
  • Resource: where you are right now, home / work / mobile
  • Password: I leave this as an exercise to the reader

On the Advanced tab:

  • Connect port: 5222
  • Connect server:
  • File transfer proxies:

During this transition, I tried the Skype integration in Pidgin. Basically - it sucks, and Skype is to blame for that. My recommendation is to use both clients if you need to during a transition period.

And a final tip - if you use the web interface for GMail, you can check out of chat there to avoid it opening a small window each time some calls you and you reply through Pidgin.


Johan Thelin is a consultant working with Qt, embedded and free
software. On-line, he is known as e8johan.


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Why not setup your own XMPP

freesean's picture

Why not setup your own XMPP server, like openfire, and use that to communicate with the company?

We already pay for

Johan Thelin's picture

We already pay for GoogleApps, so there is not point in hosting a custom server at this point.

Johan Thelin is a consultant working with Qt, embedded and free
software. On-line, he is known as e8johan.


Mozai's picture

Tried using Pidgin 2.7.11 for voice chat with Google Talk (other side using the website). Audio quality was less than webpage-to-webpage, and the pidgin side wasn't doing echo cancellation, so there was some awful feedback.

character mode?

Dr. Jones's picture

I have grown very fond of irssi/bitlbee over the past year or so. Is there any way I can tap into this for calls, file transfer, video, etc., with irssi/bitlbee calling whatever applet as needed? Or does this all require GUI software to work?

Google <-> non-Google?

Anonymous's picture

Did you test communication between Google accounts and non-Google accounts? I realize that Jingle is an open protocol, but my experience is that Google text chatting doesn't play nice with non-Google XMPP services. E.g., as far as I can, there is no way to add a non-Google XMPP friend in GMail and have that contact automatically show up in the GMail chat box (my experience is that the non-Google XMPP friend has to add the Google user on her end).

Group chats?

Dmitri Minaev's picture

I considered switching our company to Google Talk, but I found no ways to create and support group chats (other than Google Talk Labs Edition, which requires Windows). Don't you use group chats?

Pidgin - group chat

Frozy's picture

Group chat can be done in Pidgin using:
1. In main Pidgin window right click on the first person to chat to and select "Iniciate chat".
2. Window opens. From menu select Coversations and select Invite, type-in the name and click Invite button.

Actually, group chats need to

Johan Thelin's picture

Actually, group chats need to be setup from the web client. And we use labs for our Google Apps.

Johan Thelin is a consultant working with Qt, embedded and free
software. On-line, he is known as e8johan.


Andreas Kuckartz's picture

Using a standard like XMPP Jingle (instead of a non-standard like Skype) is important.

Those using other platforms than Linux can also use Jitsi ( which is mostly implemented in Java and supports ZRTP on all platforms.


Carlo Silipo's picture


In australia we do not the gtalk facility. It is only in the USA.

"This is what Google Talk uses, so anyone using GMail is automatically in." <<< not ture

I used google talk (voice)

MarvinPa's picture

I used google talk (voice) talking between Finland and Australia a few years ago with no problems. Now with the android video/voice app there is apparently some restriction to USA? I haven't really looked into this. 3rd party apps for android do work (although the one i tried worked poorly).

Actually, I'm in Europe

Johan Thelin's picture

Actually, I'm in Europe (Sweden) and I have Google Talk. I wonder if there is a list over regions enabled.

Johan Thelin is a consultant working with Qt, embedded and free
software. On-line, he is known as e8johan.

Exact capabilities of Pidgin--including: talk to a landline?

Randy Kramer's picture

So I understand: Pidgin as discussed in this article, will let you have a voice conversation (VOIP) between two computers, each using Pidgin and each (or at least one?) of the parties having a Google Talk account?

And, you can't have a VOIP conversation between the computer using Pidgin and Google Talk and an ordinary landline telephone, right? (I mean, to someone's house who only has a landline.)

And Skype, iiuc, does give you some capability to talk to an ordinary landline telephone? (As part of their fee for service.)

Correct. Pidgin, or actually,

Johan Thelin's picture

Correct. Pidgin, or actually, XMPP+jingle gives you computer to computer voice+video. No landline abilities. That is something that Skype does and charges for. I guess it requires locally placed bridges placed around the world, so it would be hard to offer without commercial backing...

Johan Thelin is a consultant working with Qt, embedded and free
software. On-line, he is known as e8johan.

Definitely requires a server, let the disparrent clients go ther

cbemerine's picture

A server, a phone box (biggest expense) to integrate to the phone system, the protocols and software that does NOT require a Java client. Avoiding proprietary lock-in is the most important decision point. Java can never be considered 100% open, because it is not as Oracle has proven. (No point in debating it, they brought the lawsuit as was predicted, get over it)

Years ago I looked at how Skype was able to pull off the miracle of leaving cellular/land-line behind. I have been free of the telco oligopoly for about 7 years more or less and absolutely love it! With a move to a FTTH community in the near future, I will be 100% free of their BS forever as will any of my family that choices to take over the property when I leave this world, as it should be.

I saved enough money each year to purchase a brand new Linux computer via ZaReason, love them, they do Linux right! One Christmas I was able to purchase multiple netbooks (running Linux of course) for my family members, the only issue were a couple of proprietary Windows ONLY games, but Skype worked like a champ on all of them. Obviously in our current politically driven depression there is not enough left over for even a new Linux netbook every year...but that one Christmas was a better one.

I loved Skype for this and more...paying less than $8.00 per month for phone service that could call any landline, any cellphone in addition to other Skype users via their SkypeIn + SkypeOut service.

Being a Skype users was a huge plus...and the quality was second to none. But now Skype has been purchased by a proprietary company, in fact a proprietary company whose track record is crystal clear on how it handles new investments that attempt to be open and play nice with Linux and Unix. Those that ignore history are doomed to repeat the same mistake. I give it 3-4 years tops, probably much less than that.

A shot, probably not the first, across the bow of opensource and Linux users everywhere was Skype's lack of integration with Asterisk. Asterisk's interoperability (even with Windows) is well known. Obviously it must be the front runner for a replacement service for Skype, but again I have not compared the market recently. Regardless of which Linux system is decided upon, in order to call landlines and cell phones a PBX box/connection will be required. What do those go for these days? $10K per month? Again I have not looked recently but barriers to entry are a multiple decade fact with the Telco industry, just look at their 1990s promises of Fiber To The Home (FTTH) that the Telcos received billions for, but reneged on. And instead of providing FTTH, they spend in excess of a million per week lobbying local, state and national politicians to avoid competition and not provide FTTH to consumers. Probably why there are less than 30 communities providing Synchronous FTTH to consumers in the USA as of June 2011:

Rather than wait for the death knell to the service (unless you use a Windows computer) to come, many of us will begin actively seeking an alternative so that our telephone service is not interrupted at the most inconvenient moment in our lives. The solution will most definitely require a server. That Linux server will have to allow for integration at its website for clients (even Windows) thus the problems with automatically updating the contact list becomes a non issue as its a function of the server long as a client can tie into the server side that is...this is where the rubber meets the road.

This is the ultimate texting and text sharing solution as well...put up a text server charge $8 - $10 per month for service and provide APIs for not only every operating system, but every hand-held Android device as well. If I want to purchase a hand-held computer (i.e Nokia N800 back in 2004-2006 or a Root-able Android today) and chat with someone who wants to pay $39.99 month to a cellular provider for texting, well its not my fault they are getting raked over the coals for their choice in operating system ~ proprietary hardware ~ vendor lock-in is it. What matters is I can log in to the same server as they and chat freely, me via my WiFi connect Internet service for FREE and them through their expensive nnG Wireless service. Heck the bits to text and chat should be FREE anyway, it costs the providers next to nothing to provide them. They could use the unused packets in between their current services and have packets left over, this too has been proven by multiple engineers more than once, but they do not want you to understand this simple truth.

I have no idea what protocol is the best at this specific instance, but know that with a little research it can be determined quickly. Is XMPP the best or does it lock you into a Windows or Java platform un-necessarily. Hint with Linux all the protocols to communicate are there, native, free from the get go, don't ask me to make my Linux system run slower because of some other proprietary data format. How many times have we Linux users been forced to hobble (slow em down) our systems because a company did not have a pure opensource solution for the use of their product or service.

And newbies beware, many of the standard setting groups have had their mission sidetracked by the very proprietary vendors for one reason only, to limit choice, limit options...of course they will wrap it up and call it something else, do not allow yourself to be confused. This too has been extremely well documented though revisionist history via the Wikipedia and other sources make the truth harder to find.

Its not a matter of IF Skype will be hobbled by proprietary goodness (yes that was sarcasm) only of WHEN. Their dropping of Asterisk support tells you all you need to know. To be honest, Linux was always an after thought with Skype to begin with, esp with unnecessary Adobe Flash updates, but at least we could get it to work as long as we could avoid "mandatory" updates of the OS, Flash and a few other processes.

Give me a non-Java, non-Windows API and protocol that will not only allow text and voice, but high definition video (H-264 1024p) via Ogg ( as well and all will be right with the world.

Thanks very much!

Randy Kramer's picture


Thanks very much!

Adium for OS X

Anonymous's picture

Sadly Pidgin is not available prepacked for OS X (unless you count Fink or MacPorts). Adium would be much easier to install if you don't have Fink or MacPorts setup already.

iChat works with your gmail

Anonymous's picture

iChat works with your gmail account and supports audio and video.

There is Empathy as well

TonyP's picture

The standard IM client for Ubuntu is Empathy, which also supports Google Talk among it many other protocols.

Empathy even integrates with Skype!

RE: There is Empathy as well

jetole's picture

Empathy is the standard chat client for Ubuntu _NOW_. This was a new change in a recent release, I think 10.04. Before that, the standard chat client in Ubuntu was pidgin and I think pidgin was the correct choice IMHO. If you are using Ubuntu, you can install pidgin by doing a search in the software center or from the command line by typing: sudo apt-get install pidgin

Pidgin also integrates with

Johan Thelin's picture

Pidgin also integrates with Skype, but the integration sucks (due to Skype's limited integrateability).

Johan Thelin is a consultant working with Qt, embedded and free
software. On-line, he is known as e8johan.

it's so good. i hate skype.

ukcap's picture

it's so good. i hate skype.

it's so good. i hate

ukcap's picture

it's so good. i hate skype.)))

pidgin gtalk

Joe ST's picture

I'm pretty sure pidgin comes with a 'gtalk' account, at least it does on Arch Linux

huh, i thought Pidgin did not

turn_self_off's picture

huh, i thought Pidgin did not support libjingle on Windows.

According to the FAQ, someone

Chris M.'s picture

According to the FAQ, someone really just needs to integrate it into the build process in windows:

I've taken a crack at it myself, with some limited success -- partly due to lack of time and partly because I haven't developed for windows since 3.1.

It probably does not

Johan Thelin's picture

I've only tested with Linux clients, as we're a Linux only work shop. However, you can still rely on the GMail web client as a voice/video capable client on Windows.

Sorry if that did not come across clearly in the text.

Johan Thelin is a consultant working with Qt, embedded and free
software. On-line, he is known as e8johan.