Three chat applications

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

Chat has to be one of the weirdest things on the Internet: we rely on it daily, for work, leisure and more and yet, there is very little interoperability between chat systems, most of which are commercial and proprietary. We try to send images, movies and play games over the Internet (well, I never play games but I read some people do) by using protocols so archaic and inefficient they make Windows 95 look like a youngster. We rely on the goodwill of one central server, or a small pool of machines, to relay all our messages, therefore defeating the purpose of the Internet — i.e. being scalable, extensible and able to work around issues.




So, why do we rely on chat? Because it’s convenient, interactive and still allows to think, keep track of our conversations with others and conduct business meetings while wearing nothing but boxer shorts. It is only natural then that we try to compensate for the deficiencies of the protocols we rely on by using pumped-up clients that will try, through an endless succession of tricks, to make chat bearable for us.




You want encryption? Clean chat windows? Tabbed chatting? Great history management? A multi-protocol application? An open-source client that seems to be actually used by its authors? Interface notifications that aren’t a pain to see? An extensible architecture? Use Adium, one of the many open-source chat clients for Mac OS X. Now, you want paramount chat reliability (OK, that is an oxymoron but I’m trying to convince myself)? Use the official AOL client but it will come with ads at every corner, fuzzy sounds, a clunky interface, complex preferences, a tendency to scatter files all over the place, no compatibility whatsoever with any feature other than text chat and a slew of weird bleeping and pulsating indicators that I can’t make sense of after 3 years of using the application. Are you more into Aqua elegance and cool features? Then, iChat is for you with audio chat, video conference, nice bubbles, file transfers, buddy icons, status messages, decent smileys and a polished sound set.




I have only 3 mentioned AIM-capable applications here and there many, many others, all with their pros and cons, as well as there are many, many other protocols. The problem is none of these applications sticks to doing one thing well. iChat is a superb audio and video messaging client but its networking and text capabilities are somehow experimental at times. The AOL client is the only one capable of managing a buddy list reliably (iChat coming as a close second) but it is absolutely unusable to chat and Adium is the perfect text client, even though it has a tendency to damage buddy lists and doesn’t do anything other than text.




I’m sure there is a way out. Open source protocols gaining ground makes me hope we will, one day, see a great, interoperable chat client. Apple or the Adium team certainly have gone to great lengths to make the best clients they can within the restrictions set by AIM. Imagine what it would be if these were out of the way!


8 Comments

gwalkley
2005-08-26 04:57:26
Mac IM
Personally I'm a big fan of Fire http://fire.sourceforge.net/
carbon
2005-08-26 05:18:36
Others
As far as alternative chat apps on the Mac goes, Adium always seems to get all the love. I personally recommend Proteus but Fire is another if your looking for choice.


Proteus:
http://www.defaultware.com/proteus/


Fire:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/fire

gwalkley
2005-08-26 07:50:45
Duck on the Dock
It's a pretty flakey reason to dislike an application, but I just couldn't stand the sight of the Adium duck icon on my dock.
larse
2005-08-26 07:58:50
Duck on the Dock
Well, then replace it! http://www.adiumxtras.com/index.php?a=cats&cat_id=1
F.J.
2005-08-27 03:28:18
Others
Hi!


Thank you very much for passing these links along!


Indeed, Adium is far from being the only alternative chat client for Mac OS X and I know that Fire and Proteus have a very dedicated user base, as well as a distinct approach to the question.


My mentioning primarily Adium was because, of all alternative clients, it is the one I am most familiar with but I certainly didn't intend to downplay the importance of other applications.


Thanks again for taking the time to post!


FJ

F.J.
2005-08-27 03:29:16
Mac IM
Hi!


Thanks for passing that link along!


It's good to see how much Fire has evolved since I last tried it and I will definitely give it another spin! :^)


FJ

F.J.
2005-08-27 03:30:29
Duck on the Dock
Hi!


As larse points out, one of the nice features of Adium is its expandability, supported by the many, many icon packs available for the application.


While many are relatively duck-centric, you should find something to your liking on the extras site.


FJ

VernonS
2005-08-27 21:31:29
Proteus
I'm a big fan of free software, but Proteus is an example of an application so solid and useful that I was more than happy to pay the registration fee. Proteus is clearly designed for the Mac, can connect to just about everything, and is very solid. I would encourage anyone looking for a good multi-protocol IM client to check it out.