Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Google Talk is shutting down. Don't like Hangouts? Here's the solution!

In less than a week, Google will be shutting down its popular instant messaging service called Google Talk. Google Talk was Google's first attempt at building chat services right into your email but they also provided mobile and desktop clients too. Best of all, because they used XMPP (Jabber) on the back end, you weren't limited to talking to only other Google Talk users, you could chat with any user on any system that used XMPP.

Over the last year or two, Google has slowly rolled out its new "Hangouts" application. The idea behind Hangouts is simple: you have the ability to have a continuous conversation that includes pictures, video, and text, with the ability to move between multiple devices during conversations and pick up where you left off. It's a fairly decent system once you get used to it but not everyone needs "continuous conversation" and many people have contacts that aren't Google users. Unfortunately, because Hangouts is its own entity, it does not integrate with other systems. If you want to chat with someone using Hangouts, they have to use Hangouts too.

Thankfully, the same technology that Google is ditching for Hangouts, XMPP, is still widely used and readily available for anyone who might not want to use Hangouts or be too happy about Google's walled-garden approach to chat. A great XMPP server can be set up in less than 30 minutes and for about $5 a month. Best of all, you're not limited to who you can talk to and can chat to your hearts content with anyone on the planet who uses a Jabber service (unfortunately, this no longer includes Google users).

Here is what you will need:

- A $5/month VPS account with DigitalOcean (or a server of your own, if you have it)
- The Prosody XMPP server
- This tutorial
- A domain or subdomain for your server (not stricly required but useful)
- Each user will need a chat program. I recommend Jitsi but there are MANY.

For security, you probably also want to grab an SSL certificate for your service. You can get that from your favorite SSL provider (I recommend NameCheap).

Once you've gotten everything you need together, setting up Prosody is really a 20 minute or less job. Following the tutorial linked above, you'll be up and running and ready to accept user registrations in minutes with a fully secure and rock solid server. Best of all, your conversations truly are private and nothing goes to Google.

A discussion about chat programs:

Many people who've used Google Talk have used third-party tools like Trillian or Miranda to access their accounts. Accessing your new XMPP server is no different. Any chat program that supports XMPP (sometimes called Jabber) will work with your new server. I recommend Jitsi because it offers features such as fully encrypted text, video, and audio chat, that make keeping your conversations secure a breeze. But, really, in the end, the choice is yours. Try out a few programs (Miranda and Trillian should still work too) and see which best suites your organizations needs.

That's it! That wasn't too hard was it? Of course, there's a myriad of things you could do with your new XMPP server if you wanted to but there's nothing saying you can't just use it for awesome and secure chat with friend, coworkers, and family.  If you have any questions, or need help, don't hesitate to contact me and I'll lend a hand if I can.

Until next time!

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