Skype integration with Trillian and Pidgin

04/19/2012 -

Organizing contacts with Trillian

Most of my business contacts use either MSN Messenger or Skype, but some like Google Talk as well as some other IM tools. Last year my frustration with organizing all these contacts, grouping them and having the IM history in various tools finally made me yield to my coworkers' persuasions to install Trillian. After an hour of getting familiar with the tool and grouping contacts, I was quite satisfied. It looked nice and did exactly what I wanted until I started noticing something extremely irritating. Apparently not long ago since I started using it, Trillian decided to boost their financial situation with ads for the free version. As if the annoying popups in the right bottom corner of the screen were not enough, I was furious when the ads started appearing in the middle of my conversation IM window. I wouldn't mind paying the measly 15$ that some of my colleagues did, but Trillian changed their pricing policy at that time as well. It became subscription based, so a fee is required every year and, although it’s currently a rather symbolic 12$ / year, that's not an appealing concept for me even for some of the other, more advanced and needed tools, especially if there was a free alternative considered equally decent. So, that was it for me, although some of my colleagues were happy with the version they previously purchased for a fixed fee and others tolerated the ads, I decided to look for an alternative.

Moving on to Pidgin

Among other options (Pidgin, Digsby, Miranda), only Pidgin stood out as an alternative, since it was the only IM client aside from Trillian which supports Skype. It doesn't do it directly, but through a Skype plugin, which is just one of its many useful plugins. For those that don't find Skype critical for their needs, the other clients may be worth considering, there's a decent comparison here. Other Pidgin features that I liked are that it's open source, works with Linux and the whole open concept of various plugins sounds quite powerful. Actually, one of the main points against it all over the internet is that it looks ugly comparing to the other mentioned tools, but I find that a matter of preference and taste. I personally liked its simple interface even better than Trillian's and with Guifications plugin there's really not that much difference (with a little extra effort of setting a nice looking theme). For more info on how to unleash the true Pidgin power, check the Ten Must-Have Plug-ins to Power Up Pidgin article. So, I ditched Trillian and encountered another frustrating matter while doing it. One of its major "advantages" is that it has its own Astra account system, which enables storing the MSN, Skype, Google and other account credentials and easily syncing it across multiple machines. One can even IM just via browser, no client installation is needed. This is truly powerful, but I didn't feel comfortable sharing my credentials (especially Google one, due to much sensitive data on my Gmail) with a third-party storage system. After uninstalling, I tried to delete the Astra account but there was no possibility to do that, so I ended up changing all my MSN, Skype and Google passwords.

Skype integration

At the time I switched to Pidgin,  Skype required its client to be installed for any integration to be possible. This kind of denies the whole “one IM client that rules them all” idea, but that’s how things were at that moment despite many pleas from the community. The integration is achieved via Skype “silent mode”, so the idea is that although the Skype client is running all the time, all the communication is relayed to a third-party client like Pidgin or Trillian. Since that time Trillian has moved on and started using direct integration via SkypeKit, which still requires skype client although in some sort of invisible and unobtrusive mode. As for Pidgin, unfortunately, the author of Skype plugin explains here that, according to terms and conditions, Skype deliberately prohibits using the SkypeKit SDK in an open-source software and although there are certain efforts to improve things in that area, currently Pidgin users can still use Skype only via its “old integration” mode. That mode however is not a smooth as one might expect - when I initially setup Pidgin and Skype, everything worked well for quite a while until the following dreaded message started happening:

Skype_silent_mode_confirmation

 When Pidgin is connected to Skype this dialog pops up twice, which wouldn’t be a problem if the checkbox “Do not ask me again” would actually work, but it doesn’t. The dialog pops up all over again whenever a computer is restarted and the connection needs to be reestablished. Someone may not be bothered by this, but for me it’s quite annoying to click through this every day. What’s even more confusing is that when I read about this on Skype forums, it appears that it is by design. Some of the support responses there are actually quite frustrating btw. I searched further and found a suitable solution in this Pidgin forum post. Some people suggested reverting to older Skype versions like 4.2 where everything was supposedly working properly and then updating to a new version. That didn’t sound appealing to me especially due to the way Skype handles updates (check below), but further posts suggested changing the Skype’s configuration file and adding Pidgin as some sort of trusted silent mode software. The config file can be found here:

%appdata%\Skype\{Your skype username}\config.xml


The bottom of my file looks like this (SilentModeOn is the relevant part):

<MainWindow>
      <ConvListWidth>250</ConvListWidth>
    </MainWindow>
    <MainWindow40>
      <Height>728</Height>
      <Maximized>0</Maximized>
      <Width>989</Width>
      <X>35</X>
      <Y>0</Y>
    </MainWindow40>
    <SilentModeOn>
      <C.3A.5CProgram.20Files.20.28x86.29.5CPidgin.5Cpidgin.2Eexe>1</C.3A.5CProgram.20Files.20.28x86.29.5CPidgin.5Cpidgin.2Eexe>
    </SilentModeOn>
    <TransferSaveDir>C:\Users\MyWindowsUserName\AppData\Roaming\Skype\My Skype Received Files\</TransferSaveDir>
  </UI>
</config>


The same procedure can be used for older versions of Trillian (for people that still use the old, non subscription based versions).

Auto updates

I could write a separate post about this - several versions ago Skype decided to perform silent auto updates, which made a lot of users complain. They have changed it since so that a little dialog pops up, but there is still no option to disable the update checking. Anyway, I was afraid that new versions would mess up the silent mode settings in the config file, but so far there were no problems. The question remains, considering their previously mentioned attitude towards open source integration, whether one of the future versions will just stop working with Pidgin.

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