Ubuntu Made Me Happy: Empathy

Ubuntu’s built-in messaging application is called Empathy. Messaging in Ubuntu is great for a lot of reasons. In fact, I could write a whole post on it. I know that because I almost just did. Then, I remembered that the point of this series isn’t to evangelize an application. It’s about my computer making me feel an emotion.

I’ll be the first to admit that web-based messaging like Google Chat and Facebook Chat are extremely convenient. It allows instant communcation no matter what computer you’re on. It facilitates context-based conversations (“Hey, let’s chat about this email”). But do you know what annoys me? It’s when I’m in the middle of writing a blog post and I hear the “ding” of an instant message. Now, I have to go figure out where it came from. It’s not just that it interrupts my work. Often I want to chat. The problem is that I’m usually in the middle of something else, in this case writing a blog post. Now I have to switch tabs every few seconds to keep up with the conversation. And if I get a Google Chat and a Facebook Chat going at the same time? Oh, save me now!

Despite the convenience of web-based messaging, their chats are constrained. You’re stuck with a little box on a website. Am I in prison? If I switch contexts, I constantly have to come back to that site to continue the conversation. Are we playing telephone? I want direct communication with people, and I want my chat to have its own window.

Ubuntu can empathize. It has messaging built right into it. I’ve already mentioned its slick notifications. It also lets me chat on a bunch of different networks (Google, Facebook, AIM, Yahoo!, etc.) with one application. Messaging is nicely integrated into Ubuntu, much like music. Empathy nestles itself quietly into the “Messaging menu” (envelope icon), where it waits until I need it (or until someone needs me!). It’s easy to change my chat status to “Busy” or “Away” across multilple networks with the “Me menu,” whose icon looks like a speech bubble. In other words, when people chat with me on Ubuntu, it feels like a natural part of my computer, not just some website I have open.

All of the little details are great, but today Ubuntu made me happy because it lets people chat with me on my computer, not on a website.

Ubuntu has Empathy

40 thoughts on “Ubuntu Made Me Happy: Empathy

  1. Google does let you pop your Gchat window out (and desktop notifications make it easy to jump to the chat window without switching through Windows), I see your argument perfectly.

    I was very upset when Google quietly decided to continue development of Google Talk on Windows. It became clear that the software was a stopgap for those who wanted a desktop program and that Google is only interested in building, supporting and maintaining webapps going forward.

    But that’s not a big deal since there are third party solutions like Empathy to do exactly what you described.

    I think it’s worth mentioning that even when using Empathy your chats are still logged in Google. I was concerned about this because I find logged chats to be incredibly useful. I don’t think there is an easy to way to toggle this on/off (though I could be wrong) like there is from within Google Talk’s web chat window (going “off the record”), but at least I don’t have to sacrifice the ability to record all my chats if I choose to use a different solution.

    • Geez I don’t know what’s wrong with me this morning. I think part of the issue is I’m using my wife’s Macbook Pro and I absolutely hate this keyboard.

      So in the first paragraph I meant “Though Google..” which would make more sense when I finish the paragraph with “I see your argument perfectly.”

      Also in the second paragraph I meant “Google quietly decided to discontinue development of Google Talk…”

    • Empathy doesn’t currently have “off the record”, but I believe Google’s version is based off of Pidgin’s “off-the-record” (OTR) plug-in. Or at least Pidgin’s version was first. Actually I think it was Gaim, which was Pidgin’s predecessor, but I’m getting off-topic. Pidgin was replaced by Empathy in Ubuntu 9.10(?).

      Empathy doesn’t have a native plug-in architecture. Empathy is actually just a GUI that runs the Telepathy messaging framework service. Efforts are underway to bring OTR support to Telepathy.

      Although it was too technical for my post, it’s great that Empathy is just a shell for Telepathy. Developers have added SIP support to Telepathy, so I’ve actually plugged my Google Voice number into Telepathy via a free sipgate.com number. This means that when people call my GV number, it rings in Ubuntu/Empathy. I’m also hopeful that Skype voice/video support is added in the future. It’s great to have such an extensible system.

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