Open Source Messaging App: What’s Available?

Open Source Messaging App

With Hangouts due to be EOL soon, I started looking for an alternative open source messaging app my family could use.

January 26, 2020

I wrote a post a while back about open source small business apps, and one of the things I neglected to mention was something to simply communicate quickly with. I didn’t talk about an open source messaging app.

When I first entered the “real world” after a brief UNIX/Linux education, my employer was using Google Talk. But Google killed it, and moved on to Google+, and then Google Hangouts.

Google was a different company back then. Their motto “Don’t be evil” was something they seemed to be sticking with. I’m not so sure now. But with Android phones, it’s been easy for my wife and I to use Hangouts for yacking back and forth, and doing a video chat on the nights she’s away for work. She goes to Bangor (Maine) a couple times a month, so it’s nice to be able to “see” each other for a bit while she’s gone. By the way, if any readers are up in that neck of the woods, I’d be more than happy to go with her one of these trips, then stop in to visit somewhere with you.

But in general, I’m not a real big fan of things like Slack and Google Hangouts, because they’re both proprietary. I’ve used both, but haven’t really looked much into an open source messaging app until just lately. I like things to be cross-platform (and the Slack and Hangouts have fit the bill well enough) but I also like them to be open source.

I use Slack at work, and gave it a whirl with my wife too. But my biggest problem with Slack is that I get sucked in and can’t shut work off if I have it installed on my phone. That’s not an open source vs. proprietary issue, it’s just an issue. I need to be able to tune out. Plus, for whatever reason, the workspace I created for my wife and I to be on didn’t work right. Messages I sent or received on the computer weren’t on the phone, and vice-versa.

And Hangouts, whether I like using it or not, is set to die at some point in the near future.

So I need a replacement, and I want an open source one.

Is There a Good Open Source Messaging App Out There?

There are a bunch, but a lot of them are front end clients for something proprietary. Either that, or they aren’t cross-device, or cross-platform. I need it all. Like Palpatine… UNLIMITED POWER!

I managed to find two, Riot and Telegram.


I set Riot up first, on my Android phone and my Ubuntu laptop. Then I set my wife’s phone up so we could test it out a while. I got it working relatively quickly, but there was a lot of key finagling. And over Christmas break I replaced Ubuntu on my laptop with Solus (and have since replaced that with Manjaro), just to give something new a whirl. I had a problem with keys again. It’s up and running though, and Riot seems to be doing everything I need it to. It does at least everything I was able to do in Hangouts. Chat, video, voice… It might work.

Installing the open source messaging app Riot was easy enough. With Solus, it was in the software repositories. It’s in the Google Play Store too, so getting it onto Android wasn’t much of an issue either. Like I said though, there’s some key exchanging that’s a bit of a hassle.


I had seen the Telegram open source messaging app, but I guess never really stopped to examine it. After running Riot a while and wondering what else was out there, I decided to give it a whirl.
Running it was easy. I downloaded their tar.xz file, then ran:

xz --decompress tsetup.1.9.3.tar.xz

Your version will probably be newer by the time you read this (1.9.3 was out when I started writing this — I’m already updated to 1.9.8!), so remember that. This next command (as far as a version goes) is the same way . I untarred the file:

tar -xvz tsetup.1.9.3.tar

This created a directory called Telegram, and that contained just two executable files, Telegram and Updater. Running the app was as simple as getting into the directory and executing it:

cd Telegram

It’s a little more involved, getting a working applications menu icon working, but that should get anyone started at least. Holler my way if you want a hand.

On a phone, things were even easier. I just went to the play store, installed Telegram, followed a few prompts and I was up and running. I didn’t give the app access to my contact list (because I wasn’t sure if it was going to send out a mass “Hey! Install Telegram” message — I doubt it after reading about the company founders, but you never know), but there’s a little + button where you can add them one at a time. I was able to get Telegram up and running on my laptop, my phone, and my each son’s phone in about ten minutes, while taking notes here in my WordPress interface.

Which Open Source Messaging App to Use?

Well, I’m thinking I’ll stick with Telegram. It doesn’t have the video capability, but I saw a job posting on Telegram’s website for a video call developer, so maybe it’s coming. Having to dork with keys probably isn’t too big a deal, but for regular individuals or small business owners it might be more pain than it’s worth.

But Wait, There’s More

I’m not going to get into it right here, but I’m also in the early stages of setting up Mattermost. While Telegram reminds a lot of people of WhatsApp (I’ve only used it on my phone because SouthWest Airlines allows free WhatsApp messaging, but have never put it on a computer), Mattermost claims to be a Slack alternative. Folks can host their own service, or pay Mattermost to host it for them. I’ve not progressed far in the install, other than getting a clean server ready. But with some recent shennanigans at Slack (was anyone else substantially frustrated with changes to their message creation area during December 2019?), I’d be more than interested in an alternative if I were somebody looking for a team-type chat program.

I’ll stick a link here to the new blog post when I get it up and running. Until then, Toodles!

Update: I got Mattermost up and running. Read about it in Open Source Chat Server: A Slack Alternative.

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