So Whatsapp has been acquired by Facebook and this news is still hot and people are discussing it all over the twitterverse. So I took this opportunity to stop using Whatsapp and removed it from my phone. Possibly I could have deleted my account but who cares.
Anyway I've been searching for a secure and FLOSS alternative for Whatsapp for quite some time now, few days ago I found about Telegram but after reading post by Tincho on planet Debian, I decided not to use it. Recently while going through the talk list for fossmeet.in I found link for Kontalk in a privacy awareness talk proposal by Praveen and thought I should give it a try. So below is my first feelings about Kontalk.
Installation and Activation
Kontalk can be installed from playstore for verification purpose it requests your phone number and country code and request for verification. This should send a SMS with a code which should be entered in the text box given and app is ready to use. There is also a possibility to use pre-existing verification code (if you got one from developer directly, read below for details).
I did see some glitches like I never got the SMS delivered to my phone after 2 attempts and a days wait. Then I went ahead and reported a bug and the main developer was quick to respond. After a discussion it was noticed that SMS was blocked by spam filters. He also mentioned its tough to get SMS delivered to India. He was kind enough to provide me with a verification code and I used the Use existing code option to enter it and get Kontalk activated.
The SMS delivery inconsistency is still present for India (and may be other nations too) some people get code immidiately others may be after couple of days and some might not. Upstream is already working on a possible workaround.
Now coming to usage part, the UI is neat and clean, I won't say super polished as Whatsapp or other popular apps but its really neat and easy to use. Some points which I like are
- Ability to hide presence, so others won't know you are online or offline. (unlike Whatsapp which advertises last seen)
- Encrypted messages and ability to optin or optout.
- Encrypted status messages! Only user with your phone number can see your status. (Cool isn't it).
- Manually requesting to find contacts who already uses kontalk!. Right it doesn't read your contact list without your permission you need to refresh to check who in your contacts is using Kontalk.
- Attach and smiley options in the top right corner of Chat window which allows easy accessing unlike keyboard - smiley switching of Whatsapp.
- No automatic download of media contents which is shared. Yes by default it doesn't download any picture or video automatically if you want to see something click on it and select download.
- Running your own server for Kontalk! Now thats something which is interesting for people who doesn't want to host their data on some other peoples infrastructure. Code for server is available at xmppserver repo.
But there are some rough edges also but I'm sure this can be improved. But some points which I noticed are
- Contact name disappears and only number is displayed. This is something which happened with one of my contact so I'm not really sure its a bug.
- My friend noticed all his existing contacts suddenly vanished when he refreshed contacts list. Again this is possible bugs and we are considering reporting it upstream.
- No group chats yet. I don't see a option to do that yet.
- Attachment at the moment is restricted only to pictures (and video? never tried) and uploading takes quite sometime and sometime hangs forever.
So I'm considering forwarding these to upstream and help them by providing enough data so these can be fixed.
All code for client server and protocol specs are available under GPL-v3 at the Kontalk project site. Server software is written in Python and I guess uses XMPP (but I've not cross verified). Server also uses MySQL as database. These can be hosted on our own servers but possibly needs more than that like SMS sending options etc.
In my views Kontalk can become a great alternative for Whatsapp and co from Free Software world and I encourage every one to give it a try which will be the first step to help improving it.
Disclaimer: I'm not a privacy or security expert so whatever I shared above are what I noticed and experts may see something different than this. In any case I welcome comments and suggestions.