Keeping going in times of corona isolation

My sister has a group of (about 10) pensioners who attended her evening classes for English literature. It is now a private group that really wants to keep going in spite of the current corona isolation recommendations.

Only about 75% of these pensioners have email and, in any case, the thought of distributing work sheets by email and/or snail mail back and forth is distinctly impersonal and unattractive.
My initial idea was to suggest a live stream with accompanying chat (always assuming we could persuade the participants to upgrade their technologies respectively). But I was wondering, if there are adequate alternatives that are supported by the OpenSUSE distribution packages and applications. I guess we have to suppose that the participants have Windows (my sister included), Apple and smartphones and few, if any, have Linux.

Can anyone point us to a good solution, assuming that the requirements are active communication of a group, with or without video, with or without two-way audio? She has participated of an Open University course some years ago and that caught her imagination as being what she means.

In these days of corona isolation, especially for the groups at risk, her request strikes me as having general interest, especially if a solution could be found which requires modest upgrade in resources. It’s a kind of humanitarian need that has appeared on our doorstep, the need for people living in relative isolation to be able to continue to participate in their favourite activities…

Does anyone have any ideas? What OpenSUSE packages could be used in some way?

Cheers
Harvey

Hi
I guess something web based would be the easiest… maybe http://openmeetings.apache.org/ skype, gotomeeting free version, zoom, google hangouts, discourse, IRC lots :wink:

Terrific. Many thanks indeed for the tips! …and so prompt!!

Are you suggesting that I, say, (or my sister) install OpenMeetings on my desktop and the other participants join the meeting and participate with their customary apps . Do you know what the system requirements would be on the server side? Do you know about client side requirements?

Cheers
Harvey

Hi
If you wanted to run your own server for folks to connect to, they have documentation on how to set up openmeeting. Else I would suggest https://free.gotomeeting.com/ which is probably the easiest solution…

https://openmeetings.apache.org/installation.html

Running one’s own streaming server has always been problematic.
And FOSS versions have appeared from time to time with promise but as a whole hasn’t taken off.

Part of the problem is the architecture and that directly affects complexity and difficulty, often requiring professional level sysadmin skills, not simply end user or small business “tech help” IT services.

Although much like VoIP telephony (there are many real similarities), you can have ad hoc peer to peer systems and you can have centralized server-based designs. If you want to have control over the participants, you have to set up logon authentication, and permissions… and likely different levels for your administrators and ordinary participants. Video conferencing software support some variation from very little to a lot.

But, perhaps most people who read this really aren’t interested in anything complex, after all if this kind of use is only recently because of Covid0-19, you’re probably not interested in anything that might require a SysAdmin.

So, here’s a few suggestions.

For the really simple to use, and largely unmoderated (no one in absolute control) you might use Skype or Google Hangouts. Take a look at their pricing, typically up to about 20 participants are free. But, in particular something like Google Hangouts is largely peer to peer which means that every participant is connecting to every other participant so the bandwidth required can be enormous for large groups.

I haven’t looked at Zoom, but it’s generally the go-to teleconferencing provider every educational system I’m aware of is setting up for their online classes. Although I haven’t used this, I’d expect it to be like Cisco’s Webex which is architecturally based on everyone connecting to a single streaming server and not peer to peer. This would be extraordinarily difficult for an inexperienced person to set up on their own, but as a service can be relatively convenient. Generally such a service comes with all the bells and whistles of allowing a person (or persons) to control who can participate, different levels of participation (including enforced muting so the lecturer isn’t interrupted), simultaneous chat, and so on. Zoom has a very nice pricing plan, free up to 100 participants

https://zoom.us/pricing

When using a service like Zoom or Webex for the first time, I highly recommend doing some rehearsing and preparatory testing… I’ve seen people struggle all the time to fix problems when there’s no trial runs. Very unlike something like Google Hangouts for example… People just join the Hangouts “room” and start talking. Nothing complicated that’s likely going to go wrong, and if anything does happen it’s likely going to affect only that one person, not the whole event.

Anyway,
That’s my suggestion… And that doesn’t even mention apps like Teamviewer that are mentioned in our Forums from time to time.

TSU

Hi
One does wonder how good the free versions may actually be in the current situation, paid service will get priority…

You didn’t mention ‘ekiga’. Is that a possiblily?

Ordinarily, I’d expect the free versions to be fine, that’s how they’d market their products.
If the free versions don’t work, then then their reputation is toast and people won’t graduate to the paid versions.

On the other hand,
The tremendous sudden impact from people using their service because of a major event would be a good test of not only their own provisioning and technical capability, it’d also be a test of their partners who provide necessary services… like simple bandwidth. Although bandwidth is extremely cheap relatively speaking nowadays so that even major increases shouldn’t cause a problem, it’s still an unknown (I doubt very many Internet bandwidth usage events can compare to the first episode of the latter seasons of Game of Thrones which produced amazing usage numbers).

In other words, I wouldn’t expect any issues or at least persistent problems from any well run service.
But if a problem happens, it may not the problem of the service, it could also be the problem of your individual ISP.

TSU

Hi
Most ISP’s around here are removing any data caps for at least 30 days, it’s going to be a good test…

Yes,
Although I haven’t heard about ISPs removing or altering data caps,
That’s a serious issue with the ISPs in my area (California, USA).
Spectrum doesn’t have data caps, but both ATT and Cox have 1TB/mo which can be eaten up very quickly.
Depends on the video quality, but I know just a single person who likes to download 4K streaming video will exceed 1GB/hr easily and blow past that 1TB cap.
If a connection supports more than one heavy User(ie more than 4 hrs continuous at that quality) at that rate, it’ll easily exceed the 1TB/mo cap. I’ve found that even HD quality 4+ hrs /day for a full month will be in the neighborhood of 300-500GB for a single person.

People don’t always realize that if they “untether” which is to drop ordinary TV channel services and sign up with at least one streaming service, those numbers I describe come immediately into play, and if you add classroom and work streaming on top of that (hopefully wouldn’t be continuous, but YMMV), it can turn all calculations upside down.

TSU

»Ekiga (formely known as GnomeMeeting) is an open source VoIP and video conferencing application for GNOME« (source: https://alternativeto.net/software/ekiga/).

I didn’t know that one. Thanks, cheers!

AT&T has said that they will not enforce the cap during the COVID-19 “work at home” policy.

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I don’t know whether this will help, but the local polytechnical (SRH it’s called) here in Germany is using MS Team. Supposedly I will have no problem with my Linux system (OpenSuse Leap 15.1).

Cheers