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X-Chat (Windows)

IRC Reviews / IRC programs / Microsoft Windows / X-Chat

 X-Chat   
  [shareware, 30-day license] This is a port of the Unix/X-Windows X-Chat program; it might not be as stable as the original Unix/Linux version, but it's a good client with powerful scripting and a full set of features, and it's open source. The official Windows port of xchat is shareware, but there are other ports available for free, e.g at silverex.org. Compare with HexChat, though, which looks better.
Links   
  platform: Microsoft Windows
  homepage: http://www.xchat.org/
  download: http://www.xchat.org/files/binary/win32/
  rating: **** (better than most, very solid)
  screenshots: http://www.xchat.org/screenshots.html
  reviews: write a new review
 

Review: XChat for Windows, June 2006

Introduction

XChat first appeared for the Linux platform and was rapidly ported over to the *BSD platform. It proved to be a very stable IRC client, and has matured nicely over the years.

Windows ports have existed for many years, but, its only within the past 2 or 3 years that the stability of the windows port has begun to match the stability of the Linux and *BSD versions.

The program is licensed under the GPL (General Public License), which ensures the source code is freely available. This later turned out to be important.

Recently, the principle maintainer and original programmer of XChat decided to cease making the windows port available for free, and started doing the same as mIRC. That is, you can download it for a 30 day trial, after which, you are expected to pay a registration fee.

This is where the GPL became important. As the program was GPL’d, he had to keep the source code freely available, therefore, various other people began compiling it for themselves on the W32 platform. Eventually, these people released their own compiles, and installers for windows, free of charge (you won’t find mention of this on the xchat website for obvious reasons, although it is mentioned on the xchat forums).,/p>

Downloading

The official build is at xchat.org, but there are a number of unofficial builds:

There is a list of all the xchat builds which gives comparisons.

I have not tested all these, nor do I guarantee that the links will remain valid. The one I use and am reviewing, is the one compiled and released by Silverex.

Preliminary Information

All XChat versions are compiled against the Gtk libraries. Depending on which build you select, it might be statically linked or dynamically linked. If it is statically linked, the relevant Gtk code is included in the executable. This makes the executable slightly larger. If it is dynamically linked, you will need to install the windows versions of the Gtk libraries. The advantage is that if you have several Gtk programs that share the libraries, you may save both disk space and memory.

All windows builds require the additional installation of a 3rd party interpreter of some form if you wish to do IRC scripting. You can choose from Perl, TCL, Python, Ruby or C++. The interpreters are available for download from ActiveState.

Installation

I chose the silverex version (http://www.silverex.info/). It is statically compiled against Gtk, meaning I didn’t have to install Gtk first. I also wanted perl scripting capability, so I installed activestate’s activeperl before installing xchat.

The installation of both was easy. Activeperl takes a while to install however, and you do need to reboot after the installation. It says you don’t, but the directory where the perl binaries reside is not added to your $PATH until you reboot.

When installing XChat, you will need to pay attention, and make sure you select the right plugins for the scripting language of your choice.

Note: The plugins do not install the language. They just install an API so that XChat can talk to the perl/python/ruby/whatever interpreter. You must install the actual language interpreter as well.

If you are not installing a scripting language, you will need to disable the plugins at this point. If you don’t, XChat will whine at you whenever you start it up.

Other than that, the installation is easy. However it’s worth noting that some of the other builds will require you to install the Gtk packages first. Instructions for this will be on their relevant websites.

Running

The first time you run xchat, you are presented with a server list window, where you can enter your user information, and select a server. If your favourite server/network isn’t in the list, you can add it.

Personally, I prefer to tick the “Skip server list on startup” box and then close it. I prefer to type /server nebula.sorcery.net manually, rather than using a point and click interface. That said, you can set XChat to connect automatically, and to identify to NickServ for you if needed, by selecting the network, and clicking “EditÂ…”

Once running, you can do some further configuration, such as setting up logging and timestamping from the “Settings->Preferences” menu.

Scripts are only autoloaded if they are in the /XChat/ directory. In its Linux counterpart, this is ~/.xchat2/, but in Windows, it‘s actually inside the hidden Applications Data folder. Ugh. That needs addressing in my opinion.

The scripting language depends on which plugins you selected at installation time.

The initial “theme” is very hard on the eyes, and you’re advised to search www.xchat.org for alternative themes. Unfortunately, these too go into the hidden Applications Data folder in windows.

Event bindings can be altered, as can event text, but when you start doing so, you realize just what a complex beast XChat is. Unfortunately, it seriously lacks in terms of documentation. However that said, it has a very helpful and friendly user support forum.,/p>

Overall, XChat is a very capable, solid, and robust client, but it is not a mIRC copy. You can alter almost every aspect of it, either by altering the config files, or by scripting.

I would recommend XChat to any windows user who is looking for a free alternative to mIRC, or to users who are bored with mIRC’s limitations.

Reviewed by: Allan K Preston



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