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Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Communications Apps

Lightweight IRC Clients

This page is dedicated to the “old-school'-style IRC clients. The user interfaces are minimal. Instead, these apps rely on IRC commands and keyboard shortcuts to flesh out their functionality. To fully benefit from these apps, you will want some previous experience with IRC. As a result of their minimalist approach, these clients generally load and perform faster than the clients on the previous page.

smuxi (Smart MultipleXed IRC) (v. 0.6.31190)

smuxi is a lightweight client with a slim, yet fully customizable interface. This app starts with a two-paned and tabbed approach. The chat area takes up the full screen when a server tab is active. When a channel tab is active, the chat area takes the right pane, while the user list occupies a small left-hand pane. smuxi allows the user to completely change the default interface, moving or removing just about any aspect. With smuxi, you can navigate servers and channels completely using the GUI, but it's clearly built for advanced users who generally rely on IRC commands.

XChat (v. 2.8.6)

XChat's simple interface consists of three panes. The left pane is the hierarchal file-tree of active servers and channels. The center pane is where the actual chat appears and the right pane contains the user list for the current channel.

XChat has the option to change the interface by swapping the file-tree server/channel list for a tabbed configuration that places tabs on the bottom of the chat pane. You can also add user list buttons to the interface for quickly banning, kicking, private messenging, sending files, or setting a user as op/de-op. There are a good number of settings to tweak in Xchat, including the usual colors scheme and the greatly-loved custom keyboard shortcuts. When XChat first opens, it displays a list of suggested servers. Another big plus for XChat is that it closes and minimizes to the system tray, which (in my opinion) is a must for a communications app.

XChat-GNOME (v. 0.26.1)

Like XChat, XChat GNOME opens to a list of suggested servers which makes finding specific interests a painless experience. Despite the identical names, the interface of XChat-GNOME is not exactly the same as XChat. The major difference is that the list of users in the selected channel is not a pane, but a button underneath the server/channel list. Clicking the button reveals a scrollable pop-out window listing the connected users.

The biggest improvement of XChat GNOME over XChat is the increase in text size, which makes XChat GNOME the clear winner for readability. There aren't quite as many toolbar configuration options for Xchat GNOME. Placing the two XChat apps comes mostly down to minutiae, but there is a clincher: XChat GNOME runs noticeably slower and has a longer startup time than GNOME!

LostIRC (v. 0.4.6)

LostIRC is quick, lightweight, minimalistic, and simple. With only thirteen options accessable from the menu bar (including the obligatory Quit and About) the GUI stays out of your way. Instead, you must rely on a pre-existing knowledge of IRC commands. Since most channels and servers will give you hints on what those commands are, this doesn't really become an issue.

The default theme is white text on a black background, which really isn't as bad as the neon green on black that many IRC clients default to. Even though LostIRC takes the opposite approach of Konversation, it no less succeeds at being a user-friendly, if not antiquated, IRC client.