The Mutt of IM

You all probably know that I'm working strengthing my linux/bash chops so that I can build a much needed desktop computer (after going on 6 years of being laptop only, it'll be nice to have something a... bit bigger.)

It's not that I don't like OS X, or Apple, it's that... I like awesome. And I want larger/more screens. And other than, and TextMate, (and adium in a way) I basically live in linux world, with a different desktop enviroment. Also, a really swell desktop setup for a linux box that would do most of what I need would run me, oh, about half the price of an iMac, or less.

So I have a virtual machine instance of Ubuntu running on my laptop, as part of an effort to get used to everything ahead of time. With VM tools beeing as cheap and fast as they are today, I think a lot of people could really benefit from using VMs more. In any case, I've been trying apps out and using it to get (more) comfortable with vim and working on solving all of the problems that I'm likely to run into now rather than later. I'll be reporting on this more in the future, for sure.

While most things have gone pretty seamless, the one program that I use that I haven't been able to even come close to replacing is Adium. Here's the thing. Adium is a OS X-ification of a linux program called "pidgin" which, despite boasting a near identical feature set is considerably less...something. While it's polished and totally operational, it's not... coherant and maybe it's only really noticeable in light of using Adium. The problem is that every other IM client for linux is worse. There's a command line version of pidgin called finch which looks like it's trying really hard to be a GUI rather than really letting the simplicty of the command line give rise to a clearer interface model. There's a great jabber/xmpp client called mcabber, but jabber adoption is still really low, and while there are interoperability measures with other protocols, the truth is that most of my contacts are on other systems, and the interoperability transports aren't incredibly reliable. If someone knows of something that I've missed I'd love to hear what people use (and like).

So I was bemoning this (the end of this story is that I'm figuring out a way to live with pidgin), with chris and he said of jabber, "It--like IMAP--is a great idea and a good protocol, the implementations are universally horrible." (or something like that) and he's right, and I think this goes for most IM clients. They all, to use a technical term, suck. [1] Chris' comparison to IMAP and mail clients reminded me of the slogan of my favorite email client, mutt.

"All email clients suck, mutt just sucks less."

And it does. I save hours every week using mutt, and I'm no where near a power user (yet.) So the question on my mind is, "where's the mutt of IM clients?" Here's what I think it would look like:

  • It would need to connect to AIM, Yahoo and Jabber. This is my personal prefrence. MSN is pretty irrelevant to me, an ICQ these days is AIM. Multiple connections would be good.
  • I think the interface should draw on the mutt with sidebar model. IMs needn't fill a whole window, and the sidebar works really well.
  • It needs to have some understanding of a tabbed interface. While I understand that many people (and to some degree, myself included) don't actively particpate in more than one chat at a time, I often have more than one window open at a time. Conversations go dormant, people step out, you have to ask a quick question, there bots on the IM network feeding you (useless) information. Tabs are necessary.
  • It'd be better if the program was able to consistently manage and sync the contact/buddy list, and handle meta-contacts, than be able to do file transfers, or mutli-user chats.
  • Granular access controls. The networks I believe, allow you to set yourself invisible to certian people, and it would be really great to be able to write rules about which buddies got what kind of status/visibility settings.
  • The key to "the mutt of" anything is the ability to take whatever you do, and bind it to a particular key command. So I'd like to be able to have "IM Chris" bound to something, or be able to set various screen names visible or invisible depending on my context or trigger different complex visibility rules.

I think there's possibility. Thoughts? How do you manage your IM? [2]

[1]Even my beloved Adium, which operates as expected in most respects is compleatly inconsistent in how it stories and syncs the buddy list to the server. Or doesn't depending on the weather. Highly annoying.
[2]Before anyone gets high-and-mighty about IM being a waste of time and attention, I generally use IM as a phone replacement because I can multi-task it, and becasue it doesn't have voicemail, and because it's almost always less awkward. Just saying. n
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