Gnome 2.4 comes standard with GnomeMeeting 0.98.5, a Free video-conferencing application. I have used iSight/iChat and MSN Messenger with a web camera for quite a while now and so here’s how Gnomeemeeting compares to these other options.My $35 USB Creative Webcam Pro works fine with any Unix I have tried it with (BSD, Mandrake, JDS, RHL/Fedora, Slackware etc, but not on Mac OS X) and Gnomemeeting loads it successfully too. The first time you run Gnomemeeting it runs a wizard which sets up your microphone, video and personal information.
The Gnomemeeting window consists of a vertical toolbar, the video window and its controls, a chat view and a separate window which shows the server you are currently connected and its users. For me to get up and running I had to go to the preference panel and check the “IP Translation” option as I am behind a firewall. Gnomemeeting requires some ports to be open on your firewall to properly work. On the preference panel you can also set more options, like additional personal information, audio/video settings, etc.
To start chatting you need to connect to a lookup directory (the “server”). The default Gnomemeeting directory is ils.seconix.com and searching for all users usually reveals between 90 and 180 visible members online, depending on the time of the day (some users choose to be hidden). You can engage on a video chat and if something goes wrong in the connection (e.g. bad firewall setup preventing connection), there is always the fail safe traditional text chat.
Gnomemeeting has the ability to connect to NetMeeting servers but it requires a membership for these servers. Additionally, it can directly video phone via IP number (using a telephone-like dialpad) or function as a real phone via third party hardware.
Gnomemeeting is great to get in touch with other Unix users. It brings a modern sense to the “Linux/Unix user group” franchise. This is how I in fact met my friend Stella from Athens, Greece. Quite a surprise that the first Greek person I saw online via Gnomemeeting happened to be a female Slackware user!
There are a few downsides to Gnomemeeting currently: It is very difficult to find online chatters willing to chat with you. 50% of the time they won’t answer your call, 30% of the time they will time out, while the rest of the time Gnomemeeting will incorrectly say that the other person doesn’t run Gnomemeeting (though they do). In my opinion, Gaim and Gnomemeeting should become one and the same project. Having such a small community of 200 users is… romantic, but not practical. It doesn’t guarantee broad success for the project. Moreover, people want videoconferencing with family members too, and most of them are likely to run MSN or Yahoo!’s web camera services (especially MSN). Gnomemeeting, with the help of Gaim and some reverse engineering, could do it. In the meantime, Microsoft has put NetMeeting to sleep and so NetMeeting interoperation is probably irrelevant.
Another problem is the necessity to adjust firewall settings, since if you don’t have access it can be tricky to work with GM as intended. MSN Messenger and OSX’s iSight do not have such strict requirements, though they do require some ports open in order to work even better on a “normal” Firewall setup. Most of the time they work as intended, but with Gnomemeeting you never know if you won’t be able to get video, or to get video but don’t get sound each time etc. It really depends on per-connection basis and how the other person is setup and how he/she has arranged the audio/video plugins.
Another problem which is really a video driver problem more than a GM one: my camera needs brightness adjustment all the time. The GM guys said that this is a driver bug (OV511 driver) and I would need to email the author of that driver.
A nice addition to Gnomemeeting would be the ability to save as .mpg or other video format your own video or a video chat (you never know if you’ll want to leave your will in a video format, or simply to record something and then burn it as VCD and send it to the family).
Overall, Gnomemeeting is one of the very interesting Linux/Unix apps for video-conferencing and while there are still problems here and there it is a sexy and fun app to run. It is not as polished usability-wise as the iSight/iChat combo, but it does the job. Get a supported cheap web camera if you already don’t have one (you don’t really need the latest and the greatest) and come join the *nix geeks online! You never know, you might meet the love of your life over there (well, it was IRC for me back in the day, but technology progresses, now you will be able to see to whom you are talking to ;-).
As always, the GnomeMeeting project needs more developers, so if you are into that kind of development fun, step in and help out. Gnomemeeting 1.0 will be featuring plugins, ALSA support, better addressbook and wizard setup.