November 20, 2006

Jabbering with Coccinella

Author: Dmitri Popov

Although its name sounds like that of a bacterium, Coccinella is a nice cross-platform open source Jabber client. While Jabber, and IM clients in general, are a dime a dozen, Coccinella sports a few nifty features that make it worth considering.

For starters, Coccinella is refreshingly easy to install. Actually, you don't need to install anything at all: simply unpack the downloaded archive and launch the Coccinella executable. When you launch Coccinella for the first time, a setup wizard helps you to configure the client and create a new Jabber account, if needed.

Coccinella supports multiple user profiles, so you can set up several accounts with different Jabber servers. More importantly, Coccinella supports the Google Talk protocol, which means that you can use it to communicate with Gmail users, provided you have a Gmail account. To create a new Google Talk profile, choose File -> Preferences, then select Jabber -> User Profiles. Select the Google Talk item from the Profile drop-down list, enter your Gmail user name and password, and press Save. To create a new account and profile from scratch, choose Jabber -> New Account and enter the address of the Jabber server you want to use). Press Get to connect to the server, fill out the required fields, and press Register to create the account and automatically log in to the server.

In addition using it as a Jabber client, you can use Coccinella for peer-to-peer communication. This allows you to connect and chat with other Coccinella users directly bypassing any servers. To switch to peer-to-peer mode, choose File -> Preferences (or Preferences from the tray menu), then select General -> Network Setup and enable the Peer-to-Peer option.

Once you've logged in, you have to populate the client with your contacts. If you have friends and peers registered with the jabber.org server, press the Contact button, enter the contact's user name in the Jabber user ID field, and press Add. The contact is added to the Subscription Pending section until the user accepts it.

To make it easier to keep tabs on your contacts, Coccinella includes a Buddy Pouncing feature that allows you to configure alerts and actions for a particular user. For example, you can configure Coccinella to send an automatic message to a specified user as soon as he is online.

To start a chat, select a user's name from the list and press the Chat button. This opens a new Chat window, which offers all the features you would expect from a chat client, including emoticons, file transfer, history, and the ability to save sessions as plain text files. But Coccinella has a few other clever features. Notably, it includes a whiteboard module that allows users to draw and collaborate in real time. To launch a new whiteboard, press the Whiteboard button in the Chat window or right-click on the user and select Whiteboard in the main window. The Whiteboard module provides essential tools such as pen, brush, line, rectangle, oval, and text. More impressively, Coccinella can import files into the whiteboard, and it supports a huge range of formats. You can insert pictures, movies, PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, MP3 files, and much more. But that's not all. The Whiteboard module also includes a library of ready-to-use graphics elements. While the library contains only a few items, it does allow you to put the whiteboard to some creative uses. Choose, for example, Library -> Games -> Chess, and you can play chess on the whiteboard. You can also use the whiteboard to run slideshows. Choose File -> Slideshow -> Pick Directory, select the directory containing the pictures you want to show, and Coccinella turns the whiteboard into a no-frills slideshow (use File -> Slideshow -> Previous/Next to control the slideshow).

While Coccinella is first and foremost a chat client, it also includes email-like functionality. The client's Inbox module contains basic tools that you can use to compose new messages, reply to received ones, and forward and print messages.

Coccinella also includes VoIP functionality, which allows you to talk to other Jabber users. This feature, however, is still experimental, and it currently works only on Windows and Mac OS X. Making a call with Coccinella is as simple as it gets: right-click on the contact you want to call (make sure that there is a green phone icon next to it) and select Call. You can also call the user you are currently chatting with by pressing the Make Call button in the chat window.

Coccinella may not enjoy the same popularity as Gaim or Kopete, but it is a surprisingly capable Jabber client. Oh, and in case you wondered, Coccinella is the Latin name for ladybug.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, German, and Danish computer magazines.

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