There are plenty of open source messaging apps available, especially if you are looking for WhatsApp replacements on desktop and mobile.
Element is one of them, which is a decentralized alternative for private messaging that you can use to interact with individuals, communities, or businesses.
Item: Privacy-friendly open source messenger built on the Matrix network
Matrix is ââan open standard for secure and decentralized communication. And Element is the email client that uses it.
Element is also part of the Matrix.org Foundation – so you’ll find most of the same team responsible for that.
Originally it was called Riot, which we cover at the time. But, after the rebranding, it is now known as âElementâ, which offers improved user experience and constantly focuses on generalizing decentralized communication for instant messaging.
Element isn’t just another open source messenger, it gives you the power to do a lot of things.
Here let me highlight some of the key features along with a few details about them that follow as you read on.
Element is more of an all-in-one messenger than a replacement for something. You can choose it as an open source alternative to Slack or as a private alternative to any instant messenger like Telegram.
Some of the options you get with are:
- End-to-end encryption chat room
- Public communities (cannot be encrypted)
- Direct voice call
- Community conference call
- Meet the Jitsi integration (one of the open source alternatives to Zoom)
- File sharing
- Support for emoji and stickers
- Moderation tools for community management
- Extensive anti-spam options
- Possibility to link other services like Slack, Discord, IRC, etc.
- Offers paid managed hosting to have control of your data
- Cross-signature device verification for privacy / message security
- Fine-grained notification settings
- Email notifications
- Ability to restore using encryption keys
- Make yourself visible across the Matrix network using your email or number
The features that Element offers can seem overwhelming to a user who just wants private messaging.
But luckily not all of these features get in your way unless you explicitly access / configure them. So that’s a good thing.
First, let me cover the installation instructions for Linux and I’ll give you an overview of my experience with Element (both on the Linux desktop and on Android).
Installing item on Linux
Element officially supports Debian / Ubuntu for installation. You can just add the package repository and the installation item.
The commands used for this are:
sudo apt install -y wget apt-transport-https sudo wget -O /usr/share/keyrings/riot-im-archive-keyring.gpg https://packages.riot.im/debian/riot-im-archive-keyring.gpg echo "deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/riot-im-archive-keyring.gpg] https://packages.riot.im/debian/ default main" | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/riot-im.list sudo apt update sudo apt install element-desktop
Note that they still use the Riot.im domain to host packages, even after the rebranding, not to be confused with the old Riot messaging app.
You can also find it in AUR for Arch-based distros – but I’m not entirely sure how effective it is.
Unfortunately, there is no Flatpak or Snap package available. So if you are using a distro that is not officially supported by Element, the best place to explore solutions / raise issues will be their GitHub page.
Now, before I start using it, let me give you some ideas about it.
Element on Linux and Android: Here’s what you need to know
For starters, the user experience is fantastic both on Android and on the desktop. I tried it on Linux Mint, and it worked perfectly.
You do not need a mobile number to register. Just create a username and add an email account to it, and you’re good to go.
You can opt for a paid home server (your own matrix network) or simply join the free Matrix home server offered.
Keep in mind, if you sign up for free, you may not be able to take advantage of all the features, such as being able to see who is online. You can only do this with your own server, the free Matrix server restricts some features like this to be able to accommodate an unlimited number of free users.
When you log in to a mobile device, you will need to verify the session by scanning a requested QR code on the Element desktop app.
Once done, you can explore and join the available public communities or create your own.
Most of the existing public communities do not have end-to-end encryption enabled. So make sure you know what you’re doing before posting to any of the public communities.
While Element does support IRC, Slack and other bridges or adding bots to a community, it just isn’t supported for an encrypted community. So you need to have an unencrypted community to be able to use bots and bridges.
A word of warning:
Element is getting popular and scammers / spammers are drawn to the platform because it doesn’t need any valuable personal information to get started.
Therefore make sure you don’t trust anyone and keep your identity safe by not using your real profile picture or work email address, especially if you join public communities.
Element is constantly improving and offers a lot of features for several use cases. I don’t see a problem with this being an open source replacement for Discord as well (in a way).
I was impressed with the level of notification control it offers and the addition of an email notification option (enabled by default). You can choose to have notifications based on the keywords you find interesting, what a great feature to have!
All in all, Element might not be the perfect replacement for everything you are currently using, but it is shaping up to be an all-in-one alternative to a lot of proprietary options.
I have had a good experience with Element so far and am confident about its future. What do you think? Want to try Element on Linux?
Please feel free to share your thoughts on this with me.