Recently, i switched from Miranda to xChat, looking to try new things, and I must admit i am hooked on xChat. Frankly, i think xChat is better than mIRC in many ways. Read on for my full review
I suspect a large number of you will know what IRC is, but there are always those who don't, and without a basic understanding of what it is, this whole article will not make sense. IRC is the communications standard behind almost all chatrooms. IRC has been around for quite a long time, and is quite flexible. There are a number of large irc "servers", in which users create "channels" based on topic.
The most common IRC client is mIRC, a shareware clinet for windows.
Before I switched to xChat, i used a program called Miranda. Miranda was a decient chat program, fully featured, but bare bones elseware. Miranda is like Trillian, that is, it combines the features of several different chat tools (google talk, msn, etc) into one client. Miranda supported everything needed, and was moderatly well behaved. What was most crippling was the lack of security. Miranda was very insecure, and very open to attack. What was worse was the interface. If you closed the main chat window, to view the channels again, you had to go through a complicated process.
Dissatisfied by some of Miranda's quirks, i went out in search of a better IRC client. Some of my friends pointed me to the open source client xChat. I downloaded a copy, and gave it a try. It was everything I needed. It wasn't overly complex, with an annoying GUI or anything, but it wasn't overly simple. It was basic, powerful, flexible, and most of all, customizable.
Many IRC clients allow you to specify custom commands, and xChat is no exception. xChat has a powerful custom commands menu, allowing you to add several commands to do many functions. It goes beyond most IRC clients by having a flag that inserts the currently selected username, so you dont have to type one out.
This feature is relatively unique to xchat. Many IRC clients have menus that pop up when you right click on another clients name. Few, however, allow you to customize the menu. Xchat does. Through a simple interface, you can move, add, and remove items from the menu. I added several commands, including a nickserv info command, an ignore menu, and much more.
Almost all irc clients have CTCP responses, but most are hard coded in. Xchat is different, it has no hard coded CTCP replies. There are a few defualt ones that ship with the client, mainly PING and TIME. You can add, delete, or change these to your hearts content, in a manner similar to that of the User Pop-ups. For example, to be secure on IRC, it is recommended that you change your CTCP time to not actually display your timezone.
No matter how many other features it has, the basics boil down to how well it chats. xChat preforms amazingly well.
Chat is simple. Responses are in a big window, and you have a single line entry box to reply with, or run commands from. That is the simplest way chat is supposed to be.
Multiple channels and Servers
Any IRC client worth its code allows you to connect to multiple channels on the same server, but few allow you to connect to multiple networks. xChat has a simple way of handling this. Off to the left of your chat area, there is a tree view. Servers are the main items, and under them are branches for each connected channel.
When your in an IRC room, you wish to do other things at times too. Almost all irc clients have various alert functions, but most just flash the task tray icon, beep, or other annoying behaviors. Xchat can do all that, and more, or none, depending on what you want. From the configuration, you can configure all the alert options, from beeping on new messages, to baloons from the system tray when you get a highlighted message.
From the server tree, when you are looking at a channel, and messages come into other channels, those channel's labels in the tree change colors (you can change these too).
One of xchats unique features, but one that is quite good, is the marker line. It is a simple line that is drawn after a line in a chat, and simply serves as a placeholder. xChat resets marker lines whenever it looses focus for a channel, so if you go to a different channel, and then come back, you can see what was said while you were elsewhere. You can also force the marker line to reset, by pressing CTRL+M. The marker line is tremendously useful for heated debates, or rapid chat sessions, as you dont have to play catchup as long.
If you are running the windows version of xChat, and have AWSPELL installed on your computer, xChat will detect it, and use it for on the fly spell checking, so you don't look like an idiot to the channel you are speaking in. The implementation is incredibly simple, any word user would find it instantly recognizable.
Server connect actions
Many IRC clients allow you to have a channel or action to join/preform on connect. Xchat lets you preform as many as you want, or join as many channels (even ones requiring a key) at once. But you dont have to add a custom command to identify with the local nickserv, xChat supports nickserves on hundreds of servers, merely requiring you to add a password to the server info list.
Xchat has probably the most brilliant scripting interface of any IRC program, mIRC included. xChat allows you to use scripts written in several languages, including python, c, ruby, and java, so you don't have to learn a new language to create scripts. There are quite a few xchat scripts out there, doing everything from rainbow text to blocking all ctcp's.
Overall, xChat is a tremendously good product. It is flexible, simple, clean, and smooth, which i find vital for any program. It isn't bogged down by visual styles or cutesy themes. For anyone experienced with IRC, it is likely the best client out there. However, for anyone new to IRC, i would not recommend it till they become more familiar with the various commands and actions, as its bare bones interface can prove daunting to people not experienced with IRC. Xchat will not guide you, and rarely offer any help. However, if you are mildly adept at using irc, then you should be right at home with xChat.
- Full featured
- Small system footprint
- Interface daunting to new users
- Lack of help