I recently attended the Practical Open Source Information POSI conference, which was held on a free and open source video conferencing platform. As I attended a series of excellent talks about practical uses of open source software, I realized how commonplace video conferencing had become over the past few years.
If open source does anything, it provides choice, and now that more and more workers have the freedom of working remotely, having an option in the way you connect makes a lot of sense.
Sometimes, you need a full-featured video conferencing application with moderation, a presentation mode, and breakout rooms, while other times, all you want to do is make a quick call to a friend so that you can see each other's faces.
Jitsi is an easy, casual, but robust video calling platform. You can self host it or use it on the public instance at meet.jit.si. It's got customizable URLs that make it easy to share links with friends you want to meet with, in-call chat, administrative controls, and call recording. It's very actively developed and has a whole collection of new features being tested and released each year. It's the platform Opensource.com uses for our weekly meetings.
Signal is already a popular security-focused chat application, and it recently added group video calls to its features. The video calls are great for simple meetings, and because you can only meet with other people in your Signal contact list, there's no concern over unwanted guests at your video call party. There's also no back and forth "phone tag" as you try to locate the virtual room you're supposed to be meeting in. It all happens in Signal, so there's no guesswork required.
Signal itself is pretty intuitive, and the video feature fits neatly into its existing conventions. In short, as long as your contacts are using Signal, this is a no-effort video calling platform. This is the application I use for personal contacts, and I regularly use its video calling feature to connect to friends and family.
P2p.chat is the easiest of them all, in both design and implementation. Working through Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC), p2p.chat is a web application that allows you to connect directly to the person you're calling, with no host server required. There's not much to the p2p.chat interface, but that's another part of its appeal. There's no administrative control or presentation mode because p2p.chat is very much the "vidphone" promised in sci-fi: A casual, no-effort person-to-person (or people-to-people) video call with somebody far away.
You use custom URLs to create a meeting space dynamically, so they're relatively easy to remember (aside from the small randomized part) and type. I use p2p.chat with friends who aren't on Signal, and it's never let me down.
Designed for classrooms, conferences, and presentations, BigBlueButton is the solution you're looking for if you need strict admin controls and extreme flexibility. With BigBlueButton, you can mute all participants, block and kick a participant, create breakout rooms, create a collaborative whiteboard, share screens, give presentations, and record sessions. Participants can raise a digital hand for attention and set their status as a non-verbal method of communication. It's easy to use, but it's a serious platform for focused and very large groups. I've attended a few technical conferences using BigBlueButton, including the Practical Open Source Information (POSI) conference.
Wire is an excellent choice for corporate customers looking for a hosted video chat and groupware client. Licensed under the AGPL, this open source project is available for desktop and server, Android, and iOS. It features video calling, messaging, and file sharing, so even a remote meeting essentially has all the conveniences of meeting in person. You can try Wire for free for a limited time and then purchase a support contract for your company. Alternately, you can host it yourself.
Open source video chat
There's no reason to settle for proprietary video calling hosted by companies you may not fully trust. The open source options available today are great for keeping in touch with all the people in your professional and personal life. Try one of these solutions the next time you want to meet with friends.