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Re: [tlug] Skype or Something Better?

On 2017-02-15 03:49 +0900 (Wed), Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:

> Not only does [Whatsapp] have end-to-end encryption, but it's far
> and away the best in the business (uses the same protocols and
> algorithms as Signal with a much more convenient UI)...
> As Curt mentioned, there are downsides to end-to-end encryption, but
> if those aren't important to you, WhatsApp is best-of-breed.

I've spent the past couple of weeks trying out Signal as a replacement
for Telegram. It's better than it was last time I tried this, though
it still has issues.

The big improvement is the synchronization of the desktop client. As
I've mentioned before, the "master" client is always an Android phone
or iPhone: account setup and some other functionality is available
only in those clients.

The "desktop" client is a Chrome app. The first time you start it
you're shown a QR code that you scan with the Signal app in your phone
and then the desktop client generates a set of keys and syncs data.

There are some fairly strict device limitations here. Apparently (I've
not tested this because my Nexus 10 is quite ill) you can have only
one phone app installed at a time, and it must be on a phone, not a
tablet or other device without PSTN connectivity. You can have
multiple linked devices running the Chrome app, but no more than five.
(It is, however quite easy and fairly quick to unlink a device and
link a new one.)

Once you've finished linking your Chrome app you'll have your list of
contacts and at least some of the settings for them (such as the
colour of the chat messages fromn that user) but you won't have any
chat history. You can then send and recieve messages from the client;
they will immediately sync to your master device and any other device
that's currently on. This sending and receiving works even if the
master device is not on (though I've only tested with it off for a
short period) so you still have connectivity even if your phone is

When any device has been off for a short time, such as a few hours, it
will re-sync when it's turned back on. I am guessing that the data for
this come from the server which would be storing (encrypted) copies of
your messages for a while after they've been passed on to clients
already. (I sent a message from the desktop client to both a friend
and to myself in a chat with "Curt J. Sampson, (Alternate Addresses)",
shut down Chrome, powered my phone back on, and both arrived. I am
pretty sure that all of my desktop clients were shut down when this

If you have a lot of messages to re-sync this can take a few minutes
and in the meantime you'll be getting quite a lot of alerts, which is
mildly annoying.

However, if the client has been off for a long time (in a particular
inadvertantant test recently, just over ten days) no messages appear
to sync at all.

So, the things that are still rather annoying, more or less in order
of importance:

* I'd really like the ability, at least once an account is set up, to
avoid having a "master" client linked to a phone number, as well as
being the only place you can do certain kinds of configuration.

* Sync is better, but still not great. I'd prefer if a client could
contact other linked clients, either up currently or as they come up
in the future, and fetch messages from them that it doesn't have. This
would avoid keeping messages on the server (if that's indeed what it's
doing) for longer than it takes to deliver just one copy and would let
clients that have been offline for longer periods still have all the
history you've decided to keep. In fact, there's no reason that a new
client shouldn't sync all the history available to it.

* The inability to use my Android tablet is rather annoying. I guess
the six-device limit is livable, but it's still a mild annoyance for
someone like me who has ten devices (multiple OSes on a single device
count as two devices) that he uses on an irregular basis.

* Being a Chrome app has its good points (particularly in that it's
the only thing that can run on most Chromebooks), but it comes with
the usual downsides of Chrome apps: there's no status icon in the
notification area of one's panel (Chrome apparently can't do this, at
least not on Linux) and it's both running only when Chrome is running
and keeping Chrome running when it's running.

* The lack of support for `code` markdown is a lot more annoying than
I'd anticipated. I hadn't really realized how much I rely on this;
it's a _lot_ more important to me than emoji. (Living without the rest
of Markdown is ok; in fact it took me quite a while to realize that
`code` and clickable links is all Telegram does as well.)

* The uglyness of the UI is fairly tragic. Particularly annoying is
that it wants to use up a lot of screen real estate with user names
and icons, and even the messages are about 50% larger than those of
Telegram. This rather hurts on smaller screens. You can make the text
larger with Ctrl-plus, but Ctrl-minus doesn't work.

* The inability to edit previous messages, at least for a brief period,
is also pretty annoying. It's another thing I hadn't realized I need
a lot until I started using chat systems that support that.

Some of this I may be able to fix myself, if I get sufficiently
motivated, since the client is open source.[1] Other parts are clearly
more server/system dependent.

Overall, Signal's finaly reached the point of being usable, if not
always convenient, for most of my purposes.


Curt Sampson         <>         +81 90 7737 2974

To iterate is human, to recurse divine.
    - L Peter Deutsch

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