Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Communications Apps

Large IRC Clients

IRC began to catch on in the late 80s and early 90s, making it the oldest form of instant messaging still popular today. The apps in this section (and the next) are strictly Internet Relay Chat (IRC) clients. They are not instant messengers that simply handle IRC as well. I used the official Ubuntu IRC channel (#ubuntu at to test whether or not these clients functioned.

The listings on this page are feature-heavy IRC clients. Most have a GUI option for essentially any action, which can make them more approachable to beginners. These apps also tend to leave a larger footprint on both disk space and system resources than those on the next page. Their Windows-equivalent would be mIRC.

Konversation (v. 1.1)

As you might have guessed, Konversation is the default IRC client for KDE and this client is not lacking in options. Tabs are located at the bottom of the interface, so you can have multiple channels open at once. For preferences, you can change the color of pretty much every component on the screen. Even though the default is black text on a white background, you can set up the Matrix-inspired neon green text on a black background with minimal effort. You can also add and remove navigation bar (called toolbar) items a la Firefox. Bookmarks also work identically to those in a Web browser.

Konversation's 'pausing' system is the standard scroll-up. If the scrollbar is positioned at the bottom, the window will continue to scroll down as new text is added. Simply raising the scrollbar above the bottom will pause the chat, allowing you to read text at your leisure without fighting the scrollbar. Returning the scrollbar to the bottom will re-enable auto-scroll. This app also lets you manage multiple identities, each with multiple nicknames. There are even options for configuring custom keyboard shortcuts. Konversation manages to incorporate a sickening number of options, yet somehow still manages not to overwhelm the user. I'm giving Konversation the top spot for its straightforward, yet feature-rich interface. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better option on any platform.

Quassel (v. 0.4.1)

First off, there are two versions of Quassel in most repos: a client-only version and a client/core combo. This covers the client/core combo, since the client-only version requires the user to manually set up the Quassel server, in which some command line work is involved.

This is a fully-featured IRC client with tons of options. You can adjust the color scheme, manage aliases, set keyboard shortcuts, and do minor modifications to the interface. The basic three-pane layout is used, making Quassel easy to pick up for anyone who has ever used a graphical IRC client before. Even new users should have no problem connecting to servers and finding channels using the GUI tools for server presets and channel lists. Since version 9.04, Quassel is the default IRC client for Kubuntu.

KVirc (v. 4.0.0)

KVirc has many option settings, which is great (unless, of course, you're new to IRC and/or KDE).

There is also the issue of this app's look and feel. First of all, it has a splash screen and many instances of pictures set as window backgrounds. Thankfully, there are no obnoxious system sounds. There is a pervasive default background, an irritating beige slab with 'KVirc' written graffiti-style in white, that ends up becoming very distracting. Fortunately, this app has Configure Themes and Manage Themes options under Settings in the menu bar.

On the other hand, a quickly-accessible bookmarking system is lacking. KVirc also crashed multiple times on my test system's 64-bit Ubuntu installation. By running KVirc in the VM installs of 32-bit Ubuntu and Kubuntu I've managed to narrow down the buggy behavior to both 64-bit and GNOME issues. It didn't crash in the 32-bit edition of Ubuntu, but ran much faster in Kubuntu. KVirc has a ton of options, but doesn't organize them in a logical and easy-to-access fashion. In fact, everything with this app seemed clunky, and I often found myself trying to figure out how the developers intended me to navigate menus and apply changes instead of just doing it. Simply put, KVirc fails where Konversation succeeds.

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  • mitch074
    I'd like to add something to the article...

    - Skype for Linux is currently in version 2.1 (beta) which differs from 2.0 (final) only in the fact that it is now able to deal with ALSA, OSS and PulseAudio transparently - and it doesn't wreck webcam outputs as much.
    - Skype for Linux has supported video ever since version 2.0 (beta); it does work quite well if your webcam sends uncompressed video to the system (if your webcam streams MJPEG and you have a 2.6.28+ kernel, you will need some hacker-fu; details on demand)
    - a quite well known single protocol IM is aMSN, which is also multiplatform; its other main advantage is that it supports voice and video chats. However, it's not always very stable and requires manual setting up of a TCP port for video and voice to work properly.
  • How about benchmarking the applications. Which ones use more ram vs. functionality? How about responsiveness and stability? Those are questions I would like to see laid out because much of the Linux user base have older hardware and don't like things eating away their CPUs and ram.
  • oralward
    You should really cover something with kde desktop as only because of protest by gnome users is it still the default desktop in any of the three versions you are covering. Its also easier for someone coming from windows. There is a version of ubuntu called Kubuntu that uses kde. This is the other main desktop.
  • amdfangirl
    I'll agree, kde rules but GMOME s what begineers use often.
  • Great article.

    As far as KDE vs. Gnome, I see no problem with the current format, maybe just do a Ubuntu(Gnome) vs. Kubuntu(KDE) vs. Xubuntu(Xfce) vs. MoonOS/OpenGEU/JAD(Enlightenment) roundup, to show off the different desktops(and the few apps that only work on a particular desktop). Any look good with the right theme and some Compiz/Beryl, but KDE and Enlightenment have an edge right out of the box.
  • rrockman
    It's... "Surprising" that you didn't analyze Mercury, one of the most advanced multi-account IM apps.
  • haplo602
    ah gui only options ... well have a look at CenterIM when you have time. It's a great little IM tool that runs in the terminal. This way I can get to my client everywhere with just a simple ssh client :-)
  • "The one major protocol that Empathy supports and Pidgin doesn't is the increaasingly-popular Jabber."
    This is just plain wrong. Pidgin has supported Jabber for a long time. It's called XMPP in the later versions which is the name of the protocol used by jabber clients
  • rdawise
    Again, I praise Mr. Overa's coverage of Linux. I am looking forward to the Games section of Linux since I don't have much experience with native games.
  • jppayne2
    "My major problem with Thunderbird is that it will continually ask for confirmation to ignore a security certificate every time it checks for new mail, by default, every ten minutes. Most of the other clients in this roundup give you the option to always accept or ignore."

    Actually, Thunderbird allows you to permanently accept the certificate, which will do what you want. Just pay attention when the confirmation dialog comes up, and select "Accept this certificate permanently". It's the first option (the default is the second option, which is to accept the certificate for the current session).
  • I prefer Xubuntu!
    It's a great lightweight Os, without all the frills and gadgets of Ubuntu, runs on low system specs, which means on a regular system it just flies.
    Takes a little of experience over Ubuntu to handle things, but over time you'll get the hang of things.
    Runs good on a USB stick too!
    I like the 'Live' idea, no need for installing; but for a full experience it's best to just remove your HD (which can get messed up in installations), and install the OS on an external USB!

    Some users experience a very good system response on a PCIE SLC SSD. Latest version you can install on 4GB, previous versions you could install on less.
    Takes about 2,75GB in size, with some apps and updates installed.
  • Who's voting all the comments down? I smell a Mac fanboy having Linux-envy-induced menstrual cramps...
  • jasperjones
    Thunderbird is quite popular and can be easily extended to be a fully-fledged PIM client. E.g., the Lightning plugin provides an integrated calendar. The very sweet Provider for Google Calendar plugin allows bidirectional access to Google Calendar (i.e., you can make the same calendar visible on each machine which has it installed, no need for manual syncing). Several other plugins consist that, imo, make Thunderbird more powerful than Outlook. Especially if you have an Android phone and use Google Calendar and Google Contacts, you will have the same contacts, calendar, and email available on all your devices.
  • WheelsOfConfusion
    Coming from a Windows background and daily use of mIRC, I loves me some X-Chat. It's a pretty great mIRC replacement, supporting those quirky color codes and enhancing readability by displaying your own messages slightly gray by default so you can tell at a glance where your messages are in relation to everyone else's, without having to use a color script.
  • Sharft6
    the ventrilo people are also working on a linux version for their popular voip program.
  • heffeque
    JFYI: Emesene is MSN=em-es-en but in Spanish: eme-ese-ene.
  • adamovera
    heffequeJFYI: Emesene is MSN=em-es-en but in Spanish: eme-ese-ene.

    Ahh, so that's where they got that name, awesome. Thanks for the tidbit :)
  • Shadow703793
    Hey toms, could you do a file system benchmark? I want to know how ext3/4 vs Reiser(4) vs JFS. I would also like to see the effect of file system on SSD vs HDD. Currently, there is ongoing debate between which performs best on SSDs, Reiser4 vs ext3/4.
  • dingumf
    amdfangirlI'll agree, kde rules but GMOME s what begineers use often.

  • adamovera
    Shadow703793Hey toms, could you do a file system benchmark? I want to know how ext3/4 vs Reiser(4) vs JFS. I would also like to see the effect of file system on SSD vs HDD. Currently, there is ongoing debate between which performs best on SSDs, Reiser4 vs ext3/4.

    Fantastic idea! I've got my plate full right now, esp with the gaming guide on the horizon, but I like this a lot. I will begin looking into it for Q1.
  • WheelsOfConfusion
    Would the Phoronix test suite be the best bet for a hdd/ssd benchmarking session?
  • Anyone know what kind of taskbar and dock are in the first screen shot? They look great.
  • adamovera
    WheelsOfConfusionWould the Phoronix test suite be the best bet for a hdd/ssd benchmarking session?

    Phoronix is great, but I'm in search of cross-platform benchmarking tools (meaning Windows too). Just comparing Linux to Linux isn't as helpful (or provocative) to nearly as many people on a general PC hardware site. If you already don't care about comparing against Windows PCs, Phoronix is pretty dang sweet, but I won't be using it much for articles here. If anybody has suggestions for Linux/Windows benching, pls share, cause I'm putting together a battery of tests for future use.
  • adamovera
    supassoAnyone know what kind of taskbar and dock are in the first screen shot? They look great.

    The bottom taskbar is just a GNOME panel jacked up to 48 pixels and made black/transparent. I used a Vista/7 style orb instead of the 'apps/places/sys' menu. The top dock is CairoDock, as are the gadgets/widgets. Just make sure to get CairoDock from the web and NOT the VERY old version in Ubuntu's add/remove.

    I was going for the Win7 w/RocketDock look on this one :)