Empathy’s Still Around….A stalemate

Last time I spoke about Empathy, I was a little disappointed in the project.  I really liked Pidgin and it felt like they were being stabbed in the back, even if everything the Empathy team was doing was koser GPL-wise.  At the time I didn’t give it a second look because it was still missing a bunch of features.  It’s been 2 years, or 4 releases of Gnome, since then and the project has come a long way.  It now supports all the protocols that Pidgin does (and more) and everyone seemed to think it was doing a better job of listening to users, etc.  Now, this shouldn’t make a huge difference unless I missed something, but I’m reviewing 2.30 as Fedora 14 hasn’t come out yet.  I’m sure there wasn’t a massive upgrade or anything.  So, first of all, here’s what Pidgin looks like.

Pidgin in Fedora 13
Pidgin in Fedora 13

The green circles are contacts that are available.  The clocks are people who are away.  I’m not sure what the yellow note is.  It makes perfect sense.  The arrows also make sense indicating people who are coming and going.  I’ll get to the the Empathy buddy list in a moment.  First I wanted to show what came up when I started it for the first time:

Empathy first start
Empathy first start

It offers to import the contacts from Pidgin or to start fresh.  That’s nice and flexible.  Then my buddy list window came up:

Empathy empty buddy list
Empathy empty buddy list

But it was empty!  I had to into the Edit-Accounts window to sign into my accounts:

Empathy signin dialog
Empathy signin dialog

The screens looked really nice.  And so my buddies appeared.  The facebook account was not included.  At first I thought it was because Empathy lacked support for Facebook which would have been a deal-breaker considering that Pidgin can do it and there’s no reason to abandon Pidgin.

Empathy buddy list (minus Facebook)
Empathy buddy list (minus Facebook)

I just went into the accounts page and found it there.

Empathy buddy list with Facebook
Empathy buddy list with Facebook

So, the red triangles aren’t quite as intuitive a signal about buddies being away.  On the one hand, red is universal for “no” and the green circles are the same as Pidgin.  But, on the other hand, it seems less elegant.  Still, not the end of the world.  One subtle thing that Empathy does that I really like is that they move the away contacts to below the available contacts.  So, if you’re looking for someone to chat with, it’s much easier, at a glance, to find someone who’s available.  So, let’s compare chat windows.  First Pidgin:

Pidgin chat window
Pidgin chat window

now Empathy (simple theme):

Empathy chat window (simple theme)
Empathy chat window (simple theme)

The main difference is that the Empathy interface is greatly simplified.  Smileys are under the conversation menu rather than right there easily clicked on.  This might make smileys easier to access via pressing “alt” to get to the menus.  But, 99.99% of the time, I make smileys just by 🙂 and don’t use the other special ones.  There doesn’t appear to be a way to change the font in Empathy.  In the old days of AIM, lots of people used to use this to make nearly unreadable fonts for chatting.  Nowadays no one seems to do that.  But it should still be possible to bold and italicize text.  I’ll try it with control-B and control-I.  It doesn’t work.  It appears your only way to emphasize text is via asterisks.  That’s suboptimal.  I rarely use bold/italics, but that could be the reason I end up sticking with Pidgin.  One possible reason for choosing Empathy is its integration with Gnome such as notifications when you’re in another virtual desktop:

Empathy - Gnome notification
Empathy – Gnome notification

I’m willing to bet that’s something you can enable in Pidgin via a plugin.  Although, not pictured here is the button that appears allowing you to respond.  That’s kinda neat.  Speaking of plugins, here’s what I have enabled in Pidgin:

  • Buddy State Notifications
  • Evolution Integration
  • ExtPlacement
  • History
  • Markerline
  • Message Notification
  • Pidgin-Rhythmbox
  • Text Replacement

Empathy doesn’t appear to have a plugin architecture.  Or maybe it’s hidden somewhere?  I don’t really care.  The only thing missing is Markerline (which it does via timestamp), text replacement (actually really useful) and Pidgin-Rhythmbox, which never worked for me anyway.  So, one I’d miss.  Interesting thing here with History mentioned there.  I searched through all the options available in Empathy and I couldn’t find a way to disable logging.  This doesn’t matter as I always have logging enabled in Pidgin as it makes looking for stuff I’ve said easier. But I know some people for whom that would mean they would definitely use Pidgin over Empathy.  I’m sure there’s some gconf setting that controls that, but I think it should be exposed to the user.  I checked the included help and couldn’t find it.

Part of what made me decided to give Empathy a look was the fact that I discovered an Adium theme that had been ported to Kopete.  Kopete has always had some neat built-in themes while no one ever seemed to really take advantage of GAIM/Pidgin themes and there weren’t every any included other than the default.  Apparently, via its use of gtk-webkit, Empathy can use most Adium themes as-is.  (There’s a conversion script and plugin that needs to be compiled for this to work in Pidgin).  Here are the defaults.  They are nice, but nothing special:

Empathy - blue theme
Empathy – blue theme
Empathy - clean theme
Empathy – clean theme
Empathy - simple theme
Empathy – simple theme

So, let’s check out some of the Adium themes I thought were neat and which are confirmed to work with Empathy.  Too bad it doesn’t tell you how to change them in the help menu.  You have to go to the website and it tells you what to do.  I d/l them and put them where the website told me to.  Yay, they appeared in the list.  One of them, Pushpin, was listed to fail but I wanted to try it anyway.

Empathy - SNES Final Fantasy
Empathy – SNES Final Fantasy
Empathy - SNES Final Fantasy with sprites!
Empathy – SNES Final Fantasy with sprites! I guess this is what it does when you don't have an avatar? It looks much better this way!
Empathy - noteboard theme
Empathy – noteboard theme
Empathy - pushpin theme
Empathy – pushpin theme (works just fine!)
Empathy - Zelda Ocarina of Time
Empathy – Zelda Ocarina of Time

I decided to go with Final Fantasy for now because, as Dan knows, they hold a special place in my nostalgic heart.  But I think I’ll probably end up going with pushpin.  So, are any of these compelling reasons to switch to Empathy?  So far I haven’t found one.  Right now they’re more or less equivalent.  So just use whatever your distro has as the default.  Right now the important use cases for Pidgin are if you need off the record or the other encryption plugin, if you don’t want chat logging, or if you also use it on Windows and want a consistent experience.  I’m going to use Empathy for a while and see if I end up pining for something from Pidgin or just stick with it.  I’ll post an update here.  Reasons for/against using one or the other welcome in the comments.

20 responses to “Empathy’s Still Around….A stalemate”

    • It’s a lot less awful than having to be logged into Facebook. I tried chatting with someone that way (who apparently doesn’t have any other chat protocols) and I kept accidentally navigating away from the page or closing the browser.

      • I don’t know and it is not obvious from your screenshots if you are using the jabber protocol server the facebook is running or the libpurple protocol to connect to FB chat. If you are using the libpurple plugin, you should really consider switching to the jabber exposed server by the FB guys.

  1. I quit using either of them earlier this year and now I use bitlbee, which turns IM from a variety of protocols into IRC traffic (it runs an IRC server to which you connect with an IRC client, and into which it delivers all your IM traffic). I then use the bip IRC proxy for this IRC server, just like I do for all the ‘real’ IRC servers I use. The upshot of this is that my IRC and IM traffic all winds up in the same application, which is much more convenient than having two, and I get all the benefits IRC proxying provides (I’m ‘always logged in’ so you can always leave me a message even if I’m not around, I can log in from multiple computers at the same time, I have universal logs rather than logs per system, etc).

    I could of course use Empathy or Pidgin for IRC, but neither of them are particularly good IRC clients, and I’d lose the benefits of proxying for IM. Another way to get a setup like mine is to use an XMPP / Jabber server for both IM and IRC traffic, of course.

    • That’s insane (in a good way). Pretty awesome geek cred setup! I use Xchat-gnome for IRC and I’ve been thinking of taking a look at Smuxi.

      • bitlbee’s geek cred leaped massively last Friday with the release of 3.0 – not because of any feature in it, but because it was accompanied by a specially-written comic by Randall Munroe (the XKCD guy) 😛


        it’s actually not very difficult to set up at all, though it sounds complex – the whole bitlbee / bip thing took me a couple of hours to get going (most of which is just boring writing of IRC server settings and channel lists into bip’s config file), and bitlbee is the shorter of the two. You really just install it (most distros have packages), start it up, connect to the server, and run a few commands to set up your IM accounts, and you’re done.

  2. One important difference between empathy and pidgin is that empathy is a purely gui front-end tied to it’s protocol backend (telepathy) through d-bus. Hence, I imagine it is possible to do things with d-bus to do certain kinds of plugins in empathy. It also requires gobject introspection to build and use it’s d-bus interconnections, so it is a rather complex beast.

    By contrast, pidgin uses shared libraries that are directly loaded as needed for different protocols and plugins. Also, empathy protocol backends need not operate under the effective “users” login or permissions since the telepathy backend is attached purely by d-bus, where pidgin’s always do as part of the client process the shared library protocols are loaded into.

  3. I tried Empathy since it was the default on Ubuntu 10.4. Absolutely failed. Tried adding new accounts. It would lose them. Tried to import from Pidgin. Nothing would import. Enabling the accounts did nothing.

    Pidgin isn’t perfect but at least it works. (I wish Adium was available on systems besides Mac)

  4. […] Empathy’s Still Around….A stalemate I decided to go with Final Fantasy for now because, as Dan knows, they hold a special place in my nostalgic heart. But I think I’ll probably end up going with pushpin. So, are any of these compelling reasons to switch to Empathy? So far I haven’t found one. Right now they’re more or less equivalent. So just use whatever your distro has as the default. Right now the important use cases for Pidgin are if you need off the record or the other encryption plugin, if you don’t want chat logging, or if you also use it on Windows and want a consistent experience. I’m going to use Empathy for a while and see if I end up pining for something from Pidgin or just stick with it. […]

  5. I tried empathy before, unfortunately I had to switch back to pidgin. The reason was the ‘invisible’ feature in empathy was not working at that time. This feature is very important for me as I don’t want to be bugged by unwanted people in my list every time. The ‘invisible’ feature in pidgin works seamless!
    I will give it a try again and will check if that feature is fixed.

  6. Just noticed that it doesn’t give email notification. The logic given is that “Evolution mail already has notification feature”. Well, I have many chat accounts and I can’t afford to pay for POP3 services for all the accounts. I think I can do without wonderful chat themes of empathy, at least pidgin serves the purpose which I want.