Linux Messaging Clients

I recently found myself looking at Linux instant messaging clients again. Sometimes I feel like some kind of Luddite for still using a desktop instant messaging client, but I just cannot bring myself to use a web application. I have used pidgin for as long as I can remember, but I have been looking for an alternative with better support for primarily keyboard interaction. My biggest complaints about pidgin center around odd focus issues that sometimes seem to require a mouse to fix.

Unfortunately, none of the GUI clients seem to offer decent keybindings. That leaves console clients. I have tried finch, which isthe console frontend to libpurple (which is itself the library that provides all of the interesting functionality in pidgin). finch comes with an interesting console window manager built on top of ncurses called gnt. I found the default UI and keybindings to be maddening, even more than most normal GUI applications. That defeated the purpose of switching.

gnt has a surprising feature: it supports alternative window manager layouts through plugins. I tried to use the one that mimics an irssi-style client. This interface superficially looked like irssi, but the interaction model was still annoying and required awkward focus changing commands. Moreover, it interacted badly with terminal resize events. Whenever I would move the terminal to another monitor with xmonad, the subsequent resize event would jumble the window positions. This caused awkward overlaps, which ruined the irssi-like illusion that the window manager plugin was trying to present. It turns out that the plugin really just carefully arranges windows to mimic the irssi interface, but only on application startup. It would not reflow the layout in response to changes.

For now, I have settled on profanity. Profanity is a console client that also mimics the irssi interface. It is significantly more successful at doing so than finch. The only downside to profanity is that it only supports a single account. It is not a huge burden to use tmux to manage a few instances for different accounts, though I would not object to multi-account support. It is worth noting that profanity only supports XMPP, which is fine for my purposes. It seems to support all of the XMPP extensions that I need (and then some), including multi-user chats. I had to spend a bit of time configuring things properly, but I eventually managed to get it working well with tmux and my xmonad configuration. Most of this configuration was related to notifications. I use X window urgent hints to show activity notifications in my xmonad bar (taffybar). Profanity easily supports this mode of operation with the /flash configuration option. There was a bit of an issue with running it in a tmux session, though; tmux would set the urgent hint when there was any console activity at all. Annoyingly, this included clock updates in the profanity status bar. I had to disable that with the /time configuration option, which was unfortunately a new addition as of 0.4.7. Of course, the version shipped with Ubuntu 15.10 is 0.4.6.

Overall, I am pleased with profanity so far. We shall see if I can stand it in a week.