TokBox Releases Desktop Client

TokBox Releases Desktop Client

Summary: TokBox, which I wrote about recently, has released a desktop client based on Adobe Air. This is an interesting development for several reasons.


TokBox, which I wrote about recently, has released a desktop client based on Adobe Air. This is an interesting development for several reasons.

To summarize briefly, TokBox is an Adobe Flash-based video chat application, which runs in a web browser. This was pretty interesting, because it didn't require any additional software download or installation (other than what happened "automatically" in the browser), so it was quick and simple to use, and you could arrange for anyone else to call you, regardless of whether they were a registered TokBox user, by simply mailing them a URL to your TokBox address as long as you were logged in. The only other video chat program that I know of which has this kind of functionality is SightSpeed, with their "SightSpeed Light" client.

Because I considered TokBox to be a "quick and easy" video client, I didn't concern myself much with the amount of stuff that was missing compared to the other major video IM programs.

Now, with the Adobe Air based client, you don't have to use a browser to log in to TokBox, and once you are logged in you can leave it running in the system tray, so you are always ready to make or receive a call, without the bother and confusion of having a browser window hanging around all the time. That is a good thing, for convenience and usability, but in my opinion it moves them into a different "league", where the standards are higher, the competition is tougher, and things are generally more interesting. At the moment TokBox doesn't stand up to well to the competition overall, they come up short in support for different webcams (they are by definition limited to cameras supported by Flash), PSTN/POTS dial in/out, text chat (they have it, but it is very rudimentary), file transfer, and with the exception of Skype (which is still stuck on one-to-one video), multi-way video chat.

Also, and perhaps the biggest problem of all, it appears to me that their video data does not flow directly peer-to-peer, it goes through a server somewhere. I base this on my standard test, which is to make a call between my two laptops here in the office, and watch the traffic on the ethernet hub. When I do that with TokBox, I see the line to the gateway (and thus the internet) flashing along with the lines to both laptops; when I do it with SightSpeed, ooVoo or Skype, once the video connection is established the internet line goes quiet, and the two laptops talk directly to each other.

Don't get me wrong, I still like TokBox a lot, as a quick and easy video chat client. I love the fact that it is browser/flash based, and thus I can run it on my Linux systems as well as Windows. In fact, for the test that I mentioned above, one laptop was running Ubuntu, and the other was running XP Pro.

I hope TokBox does well, and I'm sure that their presence will put some additional pressure on the "big players" in this area.

jw 15/7/2008

Topic: Linux

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • TokBox Releases Desktop Client

    Hi Jamie, and thanks for your interest in TokBox. We're really excited about releasing our AIR application, and happy that people such as you chose to write nice things about it and our service. I did want to comment on a few of your points above, though.

    First, regarding camera support... We've found that nearly all cameras are well-supported, especially on Windows and MacOS. If you or others know of systems where we don't support your webcam, we'd be happy to know about it and try to get it supported in the future.

    You also mention that we don't support multi-party video chat. We do... In fact, we support an arbitrary number of users in a video chat (though practically speaking, most people will be limited to between 6 and 8 people in a chat at one time. To add more people to a call, simply drag more contacts from your contact list into any current call, and the call will expand to 3-way, 4-way, and so on. You can resize the window to lay out the call however you'd like. The only real limit is how much network bandwidth you've got (a typical DSL line in the US will easily support 8 or more people).

    We do use servers today to route the traffic, though we may also support P2P configurations in the future.

    We're very pleased to be able to offer all this with an application that is so lightweight that we can run it right from within the browser, or a lightweight AIR application. This means that our users can call anyone... their mom, their friend, or even people they don't know, without having to get that other person to download, install, and configure anything. And while we've tried to keep things super-easy, we've added a lot of unique features like video mail, public posts, and more, which most of the other video communications companies don't offer at all. And best of all, all of our services are completely free.

    Again, thanks for your thoughtful review of our product.

    -Nick Triantos, CEO, TokBox
    TokBox Nick
  • TokBox Releases Desktop Client

    Hi Nick, Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I'm very sorry to have gotten it so totally wrong about multi-party chat! I think it is an example of how we become trapped by own experiences and expectations - it simply didn't occur to me to do something so simple to add more people to a video chat. That is indeed a very nice feature.

    As for camera support, I have two more comments on that. First, in the original post, I was thinking primarily of things like DV camcorders which might connect through FireWire or such, and other types of video cameras which connect through a video capture card. In my experience, these can be quite difficult to get going with flash-based video, but perhaps things have changed since I last tried? Second, the fact that your application is flashed based gives you the advantage of supporting lots of typical webcams, because that's what flash does - but it puts you at the mercy of those webcams working properly with the browser and operating system in use. I have mentioned in my blog how excited I am that TokBox will work in a browser on Linux, but since then I have found that a camera which otherwise works, for example with Ekiga, may have trouble with flash video.

    Overall, however, let me say again - I like TokBox, I like the concept behind it, as you say having it so small and light that it runs in a browser or in Adobe Air eliminates a LOT of other potential problems and bother. I suspect that when Air is ready for Linux, that will make things a lot better and easier as well.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting.

    jw 18/7/2008