Posts Tagged: chat

Better pay attention – Identity and Security

What happens when you get a letter in the mail and it appears to be tampered with?  I don’t know about you, but I either think that it got mangled in the postal sorting machines, or someone has been tampering.  I don’t immediately assume that it’s tampered with, as I am not that important of a person. But there are a few “less than desirable” folks I have come across in my travels that necessitate thinking that way at times. If I suspect that it is tampered, I have the ability to complain to the US Postal Service (or whoever the carrier is) and start an inquiry.  There’s a certain level of accountability.

Telecommunications accountability

With telecommunications, accountability is less effective.  Say your phone rings – do you assume that someone is listening in on your phone call?  Probably not unless you are in a similar profession as Tony Soprano.  The fact of the matter is this – people’s historical sense of security, or assuredness regarding source and point-to-point communications must be questioned.  I don’t mean to sound like a harbinger of doom, but this questioning comes as a result of modern technology.  Let’s take the simple example of the receiving a phone call.  Your phone rings.  The name of the person calling you is displayed on the phone’s screen.  It’s your Mother’s name, or her phone number.  Most of us would proceed with answering the call expecting the person on the other end to be our Mother.  Now, this leap of faith may be questioned if the masses understood the ease of “spoofing” this data. Мeaning, people can pretend they are your Mom just to get you to answer the phone.  Telemarketing companies are very savvy employing some techniques.  They realize if the caller ID displays “ABC Telemarketing Company” the odds of the phone being answered decreases tremendously.  But what if the caller ID were something more ambiguous, like “out of area”?  Well they did just that, then the FTC mandated they had to stop the “out of area” practice, and start displaying their phone number, and if possible company name.  Frankly, that didn’t do much as most people just lumped the “out of area” calls as telemarketing calls anyways.  At least that’s what I did.  This is really just a ‘cat and mouse’ game between the FTC/FCC and the telemarketers.  To keep things ambiguous, most telemarketers elected to just provide their phone number to display.  While not ideal to conceal the identity, it’s better than having “ABC Telemarketing Company” displayed.  In fact, because I am from Michigan, I usually accept most phone calls from any area-code in Michigan because I don’t know who’s phone might have changed – so I elect to answer rather pass the call to v-mail.  The constant balancing act our governing bodies must play between protecting free markets interests (read as commerce/business) on the one side, and protecting constituents on the other side, necessitates that we be more vigilant.

Phone calls (not only VOIP)

Back to the comparison of receiving a parcel versus a phone call.  If I get a package from my friendly postal working in the mail, I know for certain that the package was carried from the sender to me by the courier. UPS, FEDEX, etc.  When it comes to phone calls, the only thing we can be certain of is that the last part of the call was carried by my phone company.  The reality is that mostly phone calls, regardless of the technology, are carried by multiple phone companies.  Out the window goes any accountability.  Say I received a call, and heard some someone other than the person calling me starting singing a song (rare I know, but definitely possible), how can I determine where or how this intrusion took place?  I would start with my phone company, for sure, and if the breach into our conversation happened within the administrative domain of my phone company, there might be something that could be done.  The odds would that being the case aren’t great, though, and pinpointing where the breach occurred could very well be impossible.  The routes or paths that phone calls take over the telephone network change so frequently that oftentimes placing, say five simultaneous calls to the same destination might take five different paths through the network.  It’s the way things are.  Add to this situation the different technologies used, like VoIP versus TDM, any end-to-end reconstruction is arguably impossible.
 
At the end of the day, what this means to “Joe consumer” as a politician would put it, is that you can’t trust the source, or the path phone calls take through the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) with any level of certainty.  This is an unfortunately truth of the world we operate in today.

Top open source alternatives to Slack team chat

There are a lot of open source alternatives when it comes to team chat software.

As it is with every team collaborative environment, communication is very important. What software works best in your case depends on your requirements and preferences.
The first collaboration tool that comes in mind is the indispensable team chat. It does not matter if your work colleagues are sitting across the room from you or on the other side of the planet. Communication in real-time makes conversations faster, easier, reducing confusion and misunderstandings.
While some circles still think that chat applications van be distraction. And they sure can be one if not contained. But I believe that if you are committed to your work, you can come to agreement to reel of-topic chats. Creating “general” channels can help loosen up, leading to better work flow. But it is equally important to be able to give yourself the space to work uninterrupted. While writing this article I have three team collaboration tools running in background. Still I keep all my notifications silenced and I check them only when the breaks in my work allow for it.
 
I recommend using an open source tool that is made exclusively for work. I like to separate work from personal communications and that is the main reason for me to try the software listed bellow.
 

Slack

Slack is the corner stone when it comes to collaborative chat software. It is preferred by the software development companies and for a good reason. It is stable, well designed and with all the right options. But Slack is not open source not to mention that it is pay to use. As such it is not very flexible. As a simple example is that you cant self host it. For big companies with lots of sensitive data this is a major turn off.
 
Open source with its access to the code helps you ensure that all communications stay private. Of course I should mention the option to add or remove features to further improve your work flow.
 
Let’s check five open source Slack alternatives. From the classics to brand new applications, for your team’s communication needs.

IRC

An honorable mention. The truth is that it has no place in any modern company. IRC has been around for a while – about 30 years actually, and it has tons of open source implementations.
As always with the age, come the drawbacks. It lacks features that are must for every modern chat. Security and Identity management barely exist (they are implemented with bot services).
 
On the good side, IRC is universal. Both servers and clients are available for every platform you can think of. The interface while not something to brag about is intuitive and fast. And if you have been developing open source, you most probably already installed or used IRC.
 

Let’s Chat

Let’s Chat has a more modern approach to team chat. Its program (also called Let’s Chat) is with MIT license and written on top of the popular Node.js platform. You will find many of the things that are expected of chat client like Slack. Image embeds @mentions, logging and file management. With Let’s Chat you can create chat rooms for every team, or project. It can integrate with your existing authentication servers. This way you can use the same login across all your software in your organization. As an addition Let’s Chat has a nice API that allows it to connect with other tools too.
The program is easy to install and self hosting is not a problem too. You can do it by Vagrant or Docker, or as part of Sandstorm.io. There is an online demo, that does not implement all the features of the project. You can still get the general Idea of the program.
 
 
 

Mattermost

Mattermost is another app with modern approach. It is advertised as private cloud Slack alternative. It is written in Golang with a bunch of JavaScript under the hood of React framework. It supports both public and private chats as well as one on one conversations. It saves archives and is very similar to Slack interface wise. You can find all the expected team chat features. For people switching from Slack there is an import function that will import channels and chat archives.
Sadly as of late only the Team Edition is open source and free.
 
 

Rocket.Chat

Rocket chat is my personal favorite. While it can be buggy at times if you are not using the Rocket chat+ client it is a descent program.
Rocket.Chat is written in CoffeeScript and JavaScript on top of Meteor framework. It is available under MIT license. Like most others it is with descent interface and available for both desktop and mobile. It is feature rich with the only thing that I am missing is the “talk to self” option.
Installation is easy and everything is well documented. The server can be on-premise or cloud based on their servers (paid option). As with most programs now days its available on every viable platform. There is an online demo that you can check.
Rocket.Chat features an online demo, and you can check out its source code on GitHub as well. Rocket.Chat is available under an MIT license.
 
 

Riot.im

Riot.im was one of the less popular chats but things have changed fast. It rightfully sits among the top alternatives of Slack now. Riot has quite a bit of mobile and web tools that connect to Matrix network. Matrix is open network for secure and decentralized communication. Among the functions I should mention its VOIP implementation. Bridge integrations with Slack, Gitter and IRC are available, for easy replacement with the open source client.
 
It is the easiest tool to try since it is web based (both client and host). Riot is licensed under Apache 2.0 license.

Other options

This is my personal favorites list and it is far from exhaustive. I encourage you to try and find a few others before you decide what chat to use.
Don’t take everything written in this list for granted. Lately more and more open source software companies are turning the back on free software. Some time has passed since I used some of the tools above and can I give no guarantee that they are still free or open source.