Encrypted, free calling app Signal now on PC—is it any good?

It’s solid, but barebones.

The free encrypted calling and texting app Signal—endorsed and used by the likes of Edward Snowden—is now available for desktop PCs in beta.

The encryption app has become a staple on iOS and Android by being both highly effective at protecting privacy and sharply simple so that anyone can use it to make calls and send texts. Signal’s move to PCs represents the most significant expansion since Open Whisper Systems, the nonprofit behind the app, first ported its work to Android in 2010.

Signal

Signal on PC is a Chrome Web app that requires an individual to sign in with a Google account, download via the Chrome store, quickly link the desktop app with the mobile app, and then use Signal with Google Chrome. Only Android users can hop in the beta so far but it’ll be rolled out to iOS devices soon.

The close linking with Google’s products brought some immediate backlash from numerous users who criticized Open Whisper Systems on points like excluding Mozilla Firefox or even a proper desktop app.  The developers have not yet responded to requests for comment on the new software.

The new beta has limited functionality. You can only text, not call, from the PC. You can’t add contacts or do group messaging. So there’s a way to go before the Chrome extension becomes as great as the mobile app. But as a complement to the mobile app, the new Signal for desktop is already solid. 

The best of modern messaging apps means delivering to multiple devices. That’s the important upgrade here.

“Your contacts don’t have to guess where to message you, and when you switch devices the conversation you started will already be there,” the developers wrote.

The encryption for Signal is well built, as made clear by the praise lavished on it by a wide range of cryptographer academics (and, more famously, Snowden). The ease of use is admirable, especially in a world where privacy is often synonymous with difficult.

Let’s take just one moment to talk about another piece of Signal news that crept in under the radar a few days ago: Animated GIFs.

It seems small and trivial to most people, no doubt. But Signal’s entire reason for existence is to bring simple encryption to the masses. The masses clearly want perks like GIFs to be easy, so why not do something simple to attract more people?

Coupled together, moves like adding GIFs and expanding to desktop are anything but trivial. They’re the next steps in Signal’s march to conquer the world—or at least offer strong encryption to everyone in it.

Photo via Open Whisper Systems

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