AIMbivalence

by Rob Flickenger

I like to think of myself as a competent Unix Admin. Over time, I've built what most people think of as an esoteric vernacular. Stuff like:
cd /home; du -sk * |sort -rn |head -10 > ~/hitlist.txt
just rolls off my fingers with scarcely a conscious thought. Exotic and little known switches of the various nuggets that make up the Unix toolbox are second nature:
tar cvf - htdocs/ |ssh -2 -C -c none -x outland tar vxf -
(And don't forget the -C or we'll be here all night!) I know I've still got a long way to go towards Mastery, but I'm happy with the progress I'm making.


So why is it that whenever I start 'xchat', I end up cowering in a corner?


Why is IRC so horribly complex? Exactly what is the difference between 'secret', 'private', 'invite only', and 'moderated' channels? Why should anyone ever need to 'kick' or 'ban' a user from a channel, when they can just 'ignore' them?


And don't get me started on the typical ircd configuration. Why does the ircd.conf read like a badly hand-hacked sendmail.cf at the wrong end of a UUCP line after 4 consecutive double espresso's at 11:45 on a Friday night?


I'm astounded that the black art of IRC is still with us. Really, all I want to do is talk to a couple of friends, and occasionally get into a group discussion. A file transfer or two might be nice as well.


Enter the world of AIM.


I just got gaim running on my workstation. It's really pretty spiffy. Simple, intuitive, and reliable. Group chats are easy. I really like knowing instantly when my 'buddies' are available for consultation. And with perl's Net::AIM, the bizarre implications of random bits of perl to IM are simply staggering (yeah, I know that IRC has been instrumental in bringing the world the miracle of the Infobot, but I'm trying to make a point here.)


The point is, gaim is easy. Which I suppose is the whole point of America Online. And as far as I can tell (with the exception of the AIM transport for Jabber), AOL has something of a monopoly on the IM world.


Where are the free AIM-like servers? I'd love to cut AOL out of the IM loop and run my own in-house IM server. Hell, give it a gateway to IRC so you can use either tool to talk to each other. "But Jabber does all this!", you say.


Have you tried compiling the AIM transport for Jabber lately? What if I just want simple instant messaging capabilities, without the whole ever-shifting Jabber infrastructure to cope with?


This is rapidly turning into a pointless rant (which is why I've weblogged it.) I'm just surprised that in this age of distributed Quake 3 Arena, getting a little window to talk to my buddies has to involve a steep learning curve, or registering my identity with "America's #1 Internet Service Provider".