Zulip, a free alternative to group chats like HipChat and Slack

As you may probably know, there are applications and online platforms that are especially designed to accommodate chats with various user groups that allow these and those responsible for companies and enterprises to organize their workers and the work to be done.

Two of the better-known tools to achieve this are Hipchat and Slack, who offer administrators and company responsibles a private server previously installed and configured, in which rooms can be created for the rest of the employees to log onto, and from where they will be able to communicate and share resources in a fast, simple and private way.

These platforms are mostly privative and paid if you want to perform certain advanced functions such as having a large number of users, multimedia functions and so on, making companies invest meaningful sums of money if they want to actually use said functions. As an alternative to these platforms, the Dropbox team has published a new tool called Zulip.

Dropbox_don burns_startup communication_zulip
Image courtesy of Ian Lamont at Flickr.com

Zulip is a client-server platform which is open source and completely free, which will allow us to create and configure a chat platform managed in a completely private way in our own server.

Zulip’s features

The main features offered by this system are:

  • A tagging system in chat rooms, which allows people to talk about several topics at the same time without losing the thread of any of them, with the possibility of filtering messages according to said tags.
  • The possibility of creating small conversational groups that are internal, private and even one-to-one conversations away from the main groups.
  • Messages are received and stored even when you’re not connected.
  • It stores a complete history of conversations and it offers a search engine to find any of the terms used in conversations in a quick and easy way.
  • A list of users allows you to see who are all of the participants in the chat room and which of them are online at any given moment.
  • It offers previews of images, videos and tweets.
  • It lets you share files with other users.
  • It allows you to refer to specific users using an @ symbol and even an @all prompt to send a notification to all the participants within a chat room.
  • If we’re not connected when a mention or important notification is sent, it will let us know via email.
  • It offers audible notifications as well as desktop notifications.
  • You can use emojis in your conversations.
  • It lets you edit the messages that you’ve created.

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Being a free and open source tool, each company should post and set up its own server. Zulip currently has a server that runs on machines with the Ubuntu operating system or one of its variants. In order to install it in a different kind of server, it must be recompiled and the installation process must be executed manually.

To sum up the process of installation and initial setup, the steps are the following:

  • Download and install the Zulip server.
  • Install and configure the SSL certificates.
  • Basic configuration of the platform editing the file /etc/zulip/settings.py
  • Initialize the database.

The downloadable source code and the instructions to compile it and making it work are available on their official website.

Once the server has been downloaded, installed and configured we can start configuring the client. Zulip offers native clients for Windows, Mac OS X, Android and iOS, even though it is completely accessible and functional from any operating system with a web browser, so it is not absolutely necessary to install and use the desktop client.

An open source initiative

Rivaling with technologies such as IRC and XMPP, Dropbox finally decided to release the source code of the mobile versions of Zulip for iOS and Android.

When we talk about chat technologies with an open-sourced spirit, many people might think of IRC and XMPP as their first options. But the team that works for the Dropbox cloud computing platform wants to alter the division of forces in this particular sector.

If developers are interested in working on its features, they will find different components of this application available for download thanks to an Apache license. Not just some of them, but all of them, as announced by the development team.

Hence, the condition of Open Source applies to the mobile versions of Zulip and the versions that are compatible with personal computers, for Linux as well as Windows and OS X. You also get access to the Puppet server and configuration.

Dropbox has been clear to highlight the importance of the fact that this tool is now open source since it makes it more modern in comparison to other alternatives.

Another interesting feature of this software is the fact that you can load files with actions as simple as dragging and dropping, and you also get notifications and summaries of important topics you may have missed via email.

Related contents

Read Don BurnsHow to make the most out of online videoconferencing

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