Sunday, August 10, 2008

Gnome has Empathy for You

Well, the Gnome 2.24 freeze is on, and something happened that I never imagined.

Just after 2.22 was released, I took a look at the upcoming Gnome release, and I said, for probably the fifth time, that I wish Empathy and Telepathy would make it into Gnome, but that it wasn't going to happen because
  1. The licensing was wrong (libempathy is GPLed because it is forked from Gossip), and
  2. The was no API documentation
The Gnome developers have apparently gotten tired of waiting for these problems to be fixed and just went ahead and made Empathy and the associated libs part of Gnome (edit: only as external dependencies). I'm assuming that this move will put more pressure on the main developer to come into line and will make the project higher profile, giving him more manpower to work with.

Although I've said it before, this next part bears repeating. The inclusion of Empathy (and Telepathy) into Gnome is huge. Why? Well, just look at the history of GStreamer.

GStreamer came into Gnome as an immature and underpowered framework for audio and video. It took a few releases to mature, but it does pretty well these days (We all know it can be improved) and the next release will see more advanced features like DVD menus. Totem uses GStreamer. Rhythmbox uses it. Banshee uses it. Elisa uses it. Pretty much every application that wants to add audio or video is now using GStreamer ... even some KDE apps.

Telepathy is likely to work the same way for messaging. Right now, telepathy has real backends for text, voice, and video. It handles quite a few protocols through its own plugins and virtually everything else though libpurple (from Pidgin). In a couple of Gnome releases, we should be seeing Evolution, Ekiga, and Empathy in a giant symbiotic relationship. Suddenly, you will see that the person you're emailing is online and accepting IM/voice (but no video), and you will be able to click to start the conversation. This isn't too much different than the way GMail works now (and is a killer feature), but the desktop integration will be complete, meaning an easier time communicating for the Gnome user. I'm really looking forward to this eventuality. Oh, and can we get Soylent while we're at it? ;)

If you use Ubuntu, consider voting for Empathy.

ALERT: Ubuntu is considering replacing Pidgin with Empathy for Intrepid.

Also included in the final cut was another next-to-impossible-to-approve application called Conduit, which I use daily and which I'll be writing about soon. What was keeping Conduit from being considered was
  1. The total lack of keyboard utility, and
  2. An impossible accessibility situation
The solution to problem #2 is being worked on, but I don't think the Gnome devs are that interested because they are focused on making Conduit a back-end instead of a main application. Eventually the individual applications will call Conduit to do backups and syncs for them. Sadly, Conduit the application has been called a case study in why you shouldn't use custom widgets, and it will probably never be 100% accessible.

While I'm talking about new applications in Gnome, I should mention Hamster, a time-tracking applet which has some interesting features. We should be seeing good keyboard shortcuts and maybe even a connection to virtual desktops in order to track time.


  1. August 11, 2008 9:47 PM

    Wow dude that is too cool! Nice page layout!


  2. August 11, 2008 9:55 PM

    The purple/bordeaux color of non-hovered links makes it very hard to read. I had to select them (invert colors) to be able to read from more than 2 feet away.

  3. August 11, 2008 9:57 PM

    The big question is, is it better than Pidgin?

    It certainly seems to have a better future (voice/video on the main plan, not as some GSoC project), but I wouldn't like to have to switch to another IM client with the OS upgrade that would be inferior.

  4. August 11, 2008 10:30 PM

    As I say, Empathy is not really the big deal (except as far as libempathy goes), but the inclusion of Empathy brings in Telepathy, which will create ubiquitous IM/Voice/Video throughout Gnome.

  5. bigwinnerAugust 11, 2008 10:56 PM

    Thanks for writing this post. This is the first time I've heard of Empathy or Telepathy and they both appear very interesting.

  6. August 11, 2008 11:08 PM

    I dont get it...

  7. August 12, 2008 1:03 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. AnonymousAugust 12, 2008 2:31 AM

    wow we have a MS fan boy, ^^--^^
    this post is awesome i really think that this will help gnome alot, and just one step closer to GNOME 3.

  9. AnonymousAugust 12, 2008 7:32 AM

    Oke, i'm gonna whine a bit here about gnome.

    Don't get me wrong i do like gnome's work and feel that they did a reasonable good job so far but i don't understand that they keep adding new programs while there are literally thousands of OLD (+5 year) bugs and features that are:
    - Just not answered on
    - Are recognized but simply not worked on
    - Get "delayed and forgotten" because of other related bugs

    In gnome 2.22 we got:
    - Cheese (still don't see the point of that.. wasted developer time)
    - Anjuta (as the IDE)

    I can .. somewhere .. understand anjuta but on the other hand it wasn't a absolutely needed application.

    Meanwhile gnome gets:
    - More bugs
    - Way bigger
    - Way slowed to load
    - still unpleasant to use but the best there is.. kde 4.1 is going fine but not usable enough

    Then a complaint for the versiond before 2.22 what you said with gstreamer.. WHY THE HELL did they need to make it in the first place? we had a perfect ffmpeg which would be suited for all desktops (specially US based distros) if it had a few patched to grab out the possibly patented codecs. The simply was NO need for gstreamer and that lib just made the choice for developers harder.. pick gstreamer or ffmpeg..? I personally would go for ffmpeg because it has more and exists longer

    And now gnome SOMEWHERE in that empty brains finds it funny to make yet another messenger for linux that looks ugly.. Lets just use Pidgin and work on REAL gnome issues instead of making a bunch of gnome projects just so the changelog for 2.24 can be filled. And to make mather whorse.. it nearly looks the SAME like pidgin and is probably way more unstable than pidgin..

    I just don't understand how they think.
    I do understand that it are mostly volunteers working on it..

    My recommendation for gnome:
    - NO new stuff in the next release and work on all the current open bugs in bugzilla
    - Be more friendly to bug reported (some ppl are) and LISTEN to there wishes! gnome is NOT listening at this moment or not good enough
    - Make qt applications look good in gnome and visa versa (works reasonable a.t.m.)
    - Work more closely together with KDE
    - QUIT putting so much in nautilus and split nautilus up in a file manager (or replace it by dolphin) and a desktop manager. Nautilus currently does both.

    My personal idea is that Gnome is working way to wrong a.t.m. and it might be best to rewrite everything from scratch or for another group to fork gnome and make it fast and good again. I would like to make a whole new Desktop Environment but that will take a while till it gets of the ground.

    ps. be nice and don't delete this message. it are only facts and my opinion.

    Here: all the open nautilus bugs with 1+ year:

  10. August 12, 2008 7:53 AM

    First of all, I deleted the one post because it was profane and abusive. The topic had nothing to do with it.

    Secondly, GStreamer is a great little library that has one advantage over FFMpeg. It's the same on that Empathy has over Pidgin.

    GStreamer and Empathy, as parts of Gnome, can both assume the presence of certain technologies that are also standard on the desktop, meaning that IPC etc. are going to work much better and be better integrated.

    Yes, Gnome has quite a few old bugs, but they just figured out how to fix the old "Can't click on a button when it appears under my mouse" bug without breaking everything else. That one was from 2001, I think.

    I defense of most of the bugs on your list, very few of the ones on the list are high priority, and most of those are feature requests.

    Gnome has a lot of problems, but they certainly don't need to halt progress in order to get them dealt with.

  11. AnonymousAugust 12, 2008 8:17 AM


    For the bug list; that was nautilus only!
    i couldn't find the link for ALL currently open gnome bugs.

    Also a few big ussues that i have with gnome:
    - simply NO desktop grid that auto snaps the icons.. it has something like it but needs a lot of work
    - text of files in the icon view mode should be truncated after 2 lines like in kde and windows. If you have eally long names like:

    Put that in a folder with icon view and you will know what i mean. that issue is known within gnome for about 7 years (that's ow old the bug report is) and it's possible to fix it.. they just don't do it for simply no reason.

    Those are little things but make my frustrated about gnome and how they work.

  12. TristanAugust 13, 2008 1:31 AM


    The fact that you're comparing GStreamer to ffmpeg shows that you don't really know what you're talking about.

    ffmpeg is a library which contains encoders and decoders for a wide variety of formats, but that's it: GStreamer does much, much more. And in fact, GStreamer can and does use ffmpeg for doing encoding and decoding, via the gstreamer-ffmpeg package.

    A better comparison would be between GStreamer and something like libxine, but even that only really covers the "playing media" context, whereas GStreamer can do far more (see Cheese for example, or the VOIP stuff in Empathy).

    In fact, GStreamer vs libxine is a decent analogy for Telepathy vs Pidgin. Yes, at the moment Telepathy (and Telepathy-based IM clients like Empathy) are behind the likes of Pidgin and AMSN, feature-wise. But it's worth the "short-term pain" of having to do without things like nudges in MSN for a while to get everybody focussed on Empathy/Telepathy, to get it moving forward, because it has much, much more potential than the relatively static Pidgin.

    And while you quite clearly have an anti-Gnome stance, it's worth noting that (from what I have read, at least) KDE are going the same way, with Kopete looking to use Telepathy/Decibel rather than a Pidgin-style monolithic library.

  13. AnonymousAugust 15, 2008 11:26 PM

    To make Empathy work in Hardy make sure you have both empathy AND telepathy installed. Check for additional packages in Synaptic related to the two above as well.

  14. AnonymousAugust 16, 2008 1:46 PM

    Ick. No! Please! I like Pidgin!


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