I don’t have a lot of person use for Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a precursor to instant messaging that involves chat rooms and personal chatting as two of the common chat metaphors. Internet Relay Chat uses centralized servers to connect all chatters. An individual must first create a chat “name” (or handle), then log into the server, which in many cases is public (no password required), and then enter the particular channel. For Kubuntu (an Ubuntu derivative that uses KDE as its desktop environment instead of GNOME), the default chat client is Quassel. I recently had a couple issues I was dealing with, so logged into the Kubuntu help channel using Quassel to see if I could get things straightened out. I did, but more than that, learned a little bit about Quassel in the process.
First, using Internet Relay Chat isn’t the same as using AIM or Yahoo Messenger or any of the wide variety of instant messaging clients. First, most instant messaging clients are one-on-one, meaning you can chat with a single person at any given time. Internet Relay Chat is more similar to a group conversation in a living room, where everyone can hear what is being said, and anyone can jump it at any time. As such, Internet Relay Chat can be a bit overwhelming, as there may be dozens of conversations criss-crossing the chat window at any given time. It can be a bit of a chore just to keep track of a conversation you’re in the middle of, especially as some people may have similar chat names.
But these are all things I’m not a big fan of in regards to Internet Relay Chat, and not Quassel the client. Because using Quassel isn’t hard at all. When you first load it up, you’ll need to enter in a few pieces of information. First is the node you want to access. There are many chat nodes that can be used. Kubuntu uses Freenode, so the first thing I’d need to do was identify Freenode as my IRC server of choice. Once I’ve done this, I need to join a channel. Channels are designated with a pound sign, such as #kubuntu or #ubuntu or #sports or any number of things. Different channels on different servers will have different rules related to logging in. Kubuntu’s channel is open, so “logging in” was as simple as typing in “#kubuntu” and hitting the enter key.
Once there, as you can see in the screenshot, the Quassel window shows a few different things. On the left is the list of all the IRC servers I’m connected to (just Freenode when I took the screenshot), as well as all the channels I’d previously connected to (#kubuntu, #rekonq and #ubuntu). Any channels I’m currently connected to are in blue, while unconnected channels are in black.
The middle pane, the largest part of the Quassel window, shows the group chat. The chat log is often very cluttered, as any time a person comes or goes, becomes disconnected or any other activity, is logged. In fact, a quick glance at the screenshot shows that of all the activity shown, most of it is “junk” and not actual chatting. Quassel color codes the log, with actual posts shown in black, and other content shown in purple, blue, and brown, but it can still be a bit overwhelming, as I mentioned earlier, to try and pick out a conversation.
The far right pane shows all the people currently in the chat channel. People will have different icons, and be grouped differently, if they have raised status in the room, such as an operator (moderator), or a simple user. Also present in the screenshot is a ‘bot, short for robot, which is a software “chatter” who can answer simple questions about the chat channel, and generally acts as a welcome agent into the channel. From this list, a user could request a private chat with anyone currently in the room.
All in all, Quassel is a pretty nice client. It takes what can be a messy, complicated chat metaphor (IRC’s group chat), and does its best to make it a bit more modern and a bit less cluttered. Internet Relay Chat will never be my favorite way of making contact with someone else over the Internet, but Quassel at least takes a lot of the pain out of the process.