XMPP is widely – and mabye better – known as Jabber. This was more or less the same until Cisco bought Jabber Inc and the trademark. You can read more about the story on the XMPP.org website. But is there still a Jabber around? Yes, it is!
But Cisco Jabber is a whole infrastructure environment: you can’t use Cisco Jabber client on its own without the other required Cisco infrastructure as Cisco CUCM and CIsco IM&P servers. So you can’t just setup Prosody or ejabberd on your Debian server and connect Cisco Jabber to it. But what are the differences of Cisco Jabber to “standard” XMPP clients?
The above screenshot from the official Cisco Jabber product webpage shows the new, single view layout of the Cisco Webex Teams client, but you can configure the client to have the old, classic split view layout of Contact List and Chat Window. But as you can already see from above screenshot audio & video calls is one of the core functions of Cisco Jabber whereas this feature has been added only lately to the well-known Conversations XMPP client on Android. Conversations is using Jingle extension to XMPP whereas Jabber uses SIP for voice/video calls. You can even use Cisco Jabber to control your deskphone via CTI, which is a quite common setup for Jabber. In fact you can configure Jabber to be just a CTI client to you phone or a fully featured UC client.
When you don’t want to have Ciscos full set of on-premise servers, you can also use Cisco Jabber in conjunction with Cisco Webex as Cisco Webex Messenger. Or in conjunction with Webex Teams in Teams Messaging Mode. Last month Cisco announced general availability of XMPP federation for Webex Teams/Jabber in Teams Messaging Mode. With that you have basic functionality in Webex Teams. And when I say “basic” I really mean basic: you can have 1:1 chat only, no group chats (MUC) and no Presence status will be possible. Hopefully this is just the beginning and not the end of XMPP support in Webex Teams.
Well, I’m sure many of you know “normal” XMPP clients such as Gajim or Dino on Linux, Conversations on Android or Siskin/Monal/ChatSecure on Apple IOS. There are plenty of other clients of course and maybe you used an XMPP client in the past without knowing it. For example Jitsi Meet is based on XMPP and you can still download the Jitsi Desktop client and use it as a full-featured multi-protocol client, e.g. for XMPP and SIP. In fact Jitsi Desktop is maybe the client that comes closest to Cisco Jabber as a chat/voice/video client. In fact I already connected Jitsi Desktop to Cisco CUCM/IM&P infrastructure, but of course you won’t be able to use all those Cisco proprietary extensions, but you can see the benefit of open, standardized protocols such as XMPP and SIP: you are free to use any standard compliant client that you want.
So, while Jitsi supported voice/video calls for a long time, even before they focussed on Jitsi Meet as a WebRTC based conference service, Conversations added this feature last month, as already stated. This had a huge effect to the whole XMPP federation, because you need an XMPP server that supports XEP-0215 to make these audio/video calls work. The well-known Compliance Tester listed the STUN/TURN features first as “Informational Tests”, but quickly made this a mandatory test to pass tests and gain 100% on the Compliance Tester. But you cannot place SIP calls to other sides, because that’s a different thing.
As many of you are familiar with standard XMPP clients, I’ll focus now on some similarity and differences between Cisco Jabber and standard XMPP…
Similarities & Differences
First, you can federate with Cisco Jabber users. Cisco IM&P can use standard XMPP federation with all other XMPP standard compliant servers. This is really a big benefit and way better than other solutions that usually results in vendor lock-in. Depending on the setup, you can even join from your own XMPP client in MUCs (Multi User Chats), which Cisco calls “Persistent Chat Room”. The other way is not that simple: basically it is possible to join with Cisco Jabber in a MUC on a random server, but it is not as easy as you might thing. Cisco Jabber simply lacks a way to enter a room JID (as you can find them on https://search.jabber.network/. Instead you need to be added as participant by a moderator or an admin in that 3rd party MUC.
Managed File Transfers is another issue. Cisco Jabber supports Peer-to-Peer file transfers and Managed File Transfers, where the uploaded file get transferred to an SFTP server as storage backend and where the IM&P server is handling the transfer via HTTPS. You can find a schematic drawing in the Configuration Guides. Although it appears similar to HTTP Upload as defined in XEP-0363, it is not very likely that it will work. I haven’t tested it yet, because in my test scenario there is a gatekeeper in the path: Cisco Expressway doesn’t support (yet) Managed File Transfer, but you can upvote the idea in the ideas management of Cisco or other ideas such as OMEMO support.
OMEMO support? Yes, there is no end-to-end encryption (E2EE) currently planned for Cisco Jabber, while it is common nowadays for most modern XMPP clients. I think it would be good for Cisco Jabber to also (optionally) support OMEMO or its successor. Messaging clients without E2EE are not state of the art anymore.
Whereas Conversations is the de-facto standard on Android, Apple IOS devices are still lacking a similar well-working client. See my blog post “XMPP – Fun with Clients” for a summary. In that regard Cisco Jabber might be the best XMPP client for IOS to some degree: you have working messaging, voice/video calls, Push Notifications and integration into Apples Call Kit.
There are most likely many, many more differences and issues between Cisco Jabber and standard compliant XMPP servers and clients. But basically Cisco Jabber is still based on XMPP and extends that by proprietary extensions.
While I have the impression that the free clients and servers are well doing and increased development in the past years (thanks to Conversations and the Compliance Tester), the situation of Cisco Jabber is a little different. As a customer you can sometimes get the impression that Cisco has lost interest in developing Cisco Jabber. It got better in the last years, but when Cisco Spark was introduced some years ago, the impression was that Cisco is heavily focussed on Spark (now: Webex Teams). It’s not like Cisco is not listening to customers or the development has been stopped on Jabber, but my impression is that most customers don’t give feedback or tell Cisco as the vendor what they want. You can either submit ideas via the Colaboration Customer Ideas Tool or provide feedback via your Cisco and partner channels.
I think it is important for the XMPP community to also have a large enterprise level vendor like Cisco. Otherwise the Internet will become more and more an Internet of closed silos like MS Teams, Slack, Facebook, etc. Of course there are other companies like ProcessOne (ejabberd) or Tigase, but I think you agree that Cisco is another level.