September 30, 2003

Gaims IM services play

- by Joe Barr -
Gaim is a popular free software instant messaging client that works with a number of IM networks. If you are a Gaim user, you may have noticed that Yahoo!/Gaim messaging has been broken since last week, the same day that Gaim 0.69 was released. Gaim is not the only IM client in pain. Yahoo! intentionally broke logins to its Yahoo! Messenger service for most -- if not all -- third-party clients via a recent software change. But don't despair, Gaim 0.70 is here. Updated

Version 0.70 fixes the break caused by Yahoo!'s changes. But be forewarned: the Gaim site suggests not logging off once you're connected again, because no one knows if Yahoo! will continue to make changes to keep third-party clients at bay.

There are binary RPM packages of Gaim 0.70 available now for Mandrake 9.1 and Red Hat 8.0 at the Gaim download page now. And of course the source code is available for all.

According to a story in Network World earlier this month, Yahoo! took the action in order to prevent spamming of users through unsolicited IMs.

The Gaim site says, "Our friends over at Cerulean Studios managed to break my speed record at cracking Yahoo authentication schemes with an impressive feat of hackery. They sent it over and here it is in Gaim 0.70. However, certain details of the authentication scheme depend on the challenge string the server sends us, and there's really no way to tell what it does until Yahoo starts sending new challenge strings. So you can expect a few more breakages to come soon. I wouldn't sign offline if I were you."

Cerulean Studios makes two multi-network IM clients for Windows: Trillian and Trillian Pro. Trillian is free as in beer and Trillian Pro sells for $25.

I was surprised to read that a proprietary, Windows-only software project was helping its free-software, Linux brethren solve a problem, so I wrote to Cerulean to ask what motivated them to help. Scott Werndorfer, who along with Kevin Kurtz co-founded Cerulean Studios in 1998, replied, "We've always been on friendly terms with Gaim team, and they've helped us in the past. We usually pass information back and forth when we can."

I also asked Werndorfer if there was any open source licensing in the works for the free version. He said "Nope -- we're a closed-source shop, but Trillian does have a very extensive API. Leaving us to do the grunt work of backend coding, developers can use Trillian to create plug-ins for new chat networks, etc."

A Yahoo! spokesperson was not available for comment on the changes by press time.

I grabbed a Unix tarball this morning, and in spite of myself, I have a connection to a Yahoo! buddy again this afternoon. All it took was a little help from iamthelukas on the #gaim channel at irc.freenode.net to get me past a configuration problem.

Joe Barr has been writing about personal computing for 10 years, and about Linux for five. His work has appeared in IBM Personal Systems Journal, LinuxGazette, LinuxWorld, Newsforge, phrack, SecurityFocus, LinuxJournal.com, and VARLinux.org. He is the founder of The Dweebspeak Primer, home of the official newsletter of the Linux Liberation Army, an organization in which he holds the honorary rank of Corporal-for-life.

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