Even while everyone and their kids are now using Slack for most of their chatting needs, I’m still pretty much stuck on IRC. Not only is there the whole shebang about IRC being a distributed, open service (instead of a centralized, commercial, and in some critical ways very limited one), but most programming communities still stick to it, and for good reasons.
However, using IRC in 2017 can really hurt, especially when you know what kind of convenience features the commercialized competition can add to the mix. Will IRC let you post images? No, at least not natively! Will it sync across your devices? Nope! Does it have search? Not unless the client somehow logs everything, and… oh, forget it, it’s just too much work.
Not happy to give in just like that, I’ve been running my own ZNC instance on a server of mine, coupled with an instance of The Lounge (which I can recommend if you’re into this sort of thing.) This gave me the convenience of having a (decent) web-based frontend that worked across all my devices (and beautifully so), while still allowing me to connect to ZNC using a native client, if that is what I felt like doing.
But now I’ve made yet another switch – to IRCCloud, which is – oh, the irony – a centralized, commercial, closed IRC client that will connect to the servers and join the channels you choose. And hey, it’s actually pretty good! Good enough for me to shell out the $40/year and shut down the ZNC and Lounge instances on my own server.
What makes it so good?
- It adds some Slack-like features on top of IRC, including drag-and-drop image posting and inline viewing. Some will consider this a nuisance, but I kind of like it.
- It smartly groups joins, parts and quits – no more trying to find the few lines of consersation in the midst of a plethora of status messages. (This can be a big issue in large community channels, with the only available solution being hiding these messages entirely. Iffy.)
- Apparently, it has native apps for both iOS and Android, but I have yet to try them.
- The web version supports desktop notifications and can easily be converted into a desktop app through the magic of nativefier.
- There’s a “jump to channel” keyboard shortcut with fuzzy search. This is so useful!
- And of course the convenience – oh, irony – of a paid hosted service. I don’t need to configure or maintain anything. Call me lazy, but I consider this a plus, as much is I enjoy rolling my own solutions. So why not just use Slack? Because IRCCloud still connects to free servers – if I want to stop using it, I just go back to some other client.
What’s not so great?
- It has a couple of themes, but they’re not really all that great. Apparently some people are solving this through user stylesheets. Luckily, the default theme is good enough.
- You may not be a big fan of piping your entire IRC conversation through a third party server. (Personally, I’m not terribly worried. But that’s just silly old me.)
So, there you have it – for the time being, I will be doing all my IRCing through IRCCloud, and I’m more than happy to pay the $40/year for a premium account.