November 24, 2003

What are the best Linux IRC and IM clients?

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

I've been experimenting a bit with IRC and IM clients, but now I'm back to the ones I've been using all along: XChat and Gaim. Is this because I'm so used to these programs that no others can possibly satisfy me, or are there better ones out there I don't know about and haven't tried?Once we become accustomed to one program, we tend to measure all others against it, and many of the factors we use to judge have nothing to do with quality or efficiency but with our habits. We get used to typing "a" and getting response "b" or clicking on an icon in a certain spot to get a desired result, and if we suddenly need to click a different widget or even the same one in a different place, it slows us down -- and might even make us grumble about how the new program is inferior to the one we're used to using.

I believe this human factor -- that we develop habits and often have trouble breaking them -- is a major reason more people and companies haven't switched from Windows to Linux on their desktops or haven't at least dumped expensive Microsoft Office in favor of less expensive StarOffice or free OpenOffice. And when I wrote about a week I spent using Windows instead of Linux, and expressed exactly the same kind of frustration Windows users express when they first try Linux, I was flamed for being anti-Windows exactly the same way IT columnists who try Linux and find it's different from Windows -- and therefore not to their liking -- get flamed by Linux zealots.

We humans are an amusing bunch, aren't we?

Note that I don't exclude myself, which is why the headline on this story is in the form of a question.

In my quest for better IRC and IM I tried Kopete, Konversation, and ChatZilla.

ChatZilla didn't make it easy for me to automatically log onto eight channels across three networks, including two private channels which require passwords. And another fatal -- to me -- flaw: I couldn't figure out how to get rid of the network tabs and only have tabs showing for the channels themselves. Perhaps these problems will disappear in later versions, but they make ChatZilla less usable than XChat today. For me, anyway.

Konversation had the same problems as ChatZilla, although it seems to be progressing rapidly as a project; the difference in user interface -- and usability -- between the version shipped with SUSE 9.0 Pro and the one released 15 November 2003 is immense. The earlier one wasted huge amounts of screen real estate. The newer one is much more efficient. But it still has one flaw -- at least it's a flaw in my opinion -- shared by most KDE programs: It expects you to use Konqueror as your browser, even if you prefer Mozilla or Opera or whatever. I could not find a way to make URLs posted in an IRC channel open with Mozilla, a feature I rather like in XChat, which gives me many browser choices.

(Perhaps the ability to open an IRC URL link in a number of browsers is not important to you, but it is to me. I use IRC primarily for work, and we often discuss page layouts and how they display in different browsers. This is yet another example of why all software reviews are personal opinions that may or may not be applicable to your situation even if they accurately reflect the reviewer's experience.)

Kopete. Hmmm. I can't really think of a reason other than habit to use Gaim instead of Kopete for my IM needs. The two programs seem to behave in almost exactly the same way when using AIM. If I used Kopete I could use one program for all my IM and IRC needs instead of using two, which might be kind of nice.

But I was unable to get Kopete to connect to IRC. I clicked on "Help" and it took me to the generic KDE HelpCenter, not to anything useful. I'm sure I could find an email list or IRC channel and get advice, but why bother? XChat and Gaim do what I need already, with no learning or question-asking needed.

And yet, I suspect that if I was accustomed to using any one of these clients for IRC instead of XChat, I'd find XChat obscure and hard to use. It is not the world's most intuitive program in many ways, but after at least three years of using it all day, every day, I know its tricks and deficiencies so well that I work around them without even thinking about it.

That's enough about me. What about you?

I happily admit that familiarity is the main reason I prefer XChat and Gaim, and that I am satisfied enough with these programs to have ceased my search for alternatives after trying only three possibilities.

But how has your search for the perfect IRC and IM applications gone? Have you tried the same programs I did? How did you like them? What other ones have you tried? Why did you like or dislike them?

The point here isn't to knock someone else's choice, but to tell us about your own, and the reason you made it so that we can all learn from each other -- and so developers working on IM and IRC projects might get a few ideas about what features users who are not currently running their programs may need.

With that said, I'll butt out now. You have the floor.


  • Linux
Click Here!