Posted: January 13th, 2014
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I thought I would write a post clarifying why I don't use whatever is the next hype in chat clients because people ask these questions way too often and, while the answer is not so complicated, I'm just too lazy to explain this verbally.
The answer is: I want to use an open protocol with the chat client of my preference in every device I have. Pretty simple, right? So lets review the story of chat clients since people started bugging me about this:
I was a user of MSN Messenger back when it was popular and I was using Windows. Back then you wouldn't notice the difference because it was Windows so there was just one way of doing chat (and it took like 80 MB to load that chat client), but then I switched to KDE and GNU/Linux and started using Kopete, which was fast and to the point - no ads, no fancy effects, just a chat client as they all should be. But it had problems supporting the MSN protocol, and then one day in early 2010 Microsoft decided to change something in the nickname protocol and my nickname broke. I decided I didn't want to keep having a broken user experience and by that time I was already using my GMail account a lot. I realized GChat was based on XMPP and thus had much better support in Kopete, so I started using that and it was perfect: I could connect from my PC or my Laptop, and if I was not in any of those, I could still use the web interface. I then added a smartphone to my device stack and was also able to keep the chat going on my mobile device too, nothing to complain about. At some point, I also discovered Facebook's chat is XMPP based, so I also added that account to my computer chat clients (but I have never added it to my smartphone for other reasons) so that is my configuration to this day.
But then we had Blackberry Messenger. Everybody had BBM, and everybody wanted to drag me into that. I saw the problem with that back then, and I guess you can now see the problem, right? A closed protocol that just works on one device is set to die eventually, and Blackberry finally died (took some time, though), and BBM died with it. Blackberry tried to open it up as a last resort but that was obviously too late, because people had moved to other stupid chat ideas. But even if it was to live forever, the idea of having your chat in just one (tiny) device is out of the question.
Then WhatsApp. Apparently at some point when people realized there were other devices apart from Blackberries, they also realized BBM was closed (we call this mass intelligence) so they went for a cross-device "solution": a 1 year free subscription to a vulnerable chat service that would then try to charge you, but (mass intelligence again) people had a plan to fiddle their accounts after one year etc - I never got the whole picture. Interestingly, one of the many times someone tried to convience me to use that, I asked him if the protocol was open. That person couldn't say yes or no, but he thought it was open. Turns out, it in fact is XMPP, but modified in a way that effectively locks your chat to your mobile device.
Oh, and Skype! That's a big showstopper because just about every company I know uses Skype as their primary source of communication. For some reason people trust Skype like if some digital gods looked down to us humans and decided to give us that piece of software as a blessing. For what is worth, I have never trusted Skype just because it is closed, but after the acquisition by Microsoft, you can rest assured your business secrets are safely stored in an NSA datacenter. But I have to admit I have never seen a stable alternative to Skype that is open and easy to use, but we might get one soon.
And in this brave new world of mobile devices reaching the (stupid) masses we have many other clients: Snapchat, Line, whatever Apple provides for their
slaves users... you name it. But, you know what? I'm staying with XMPP implementations in Google and Facebook and I'll be just fine as long as they want to keep those services alive. Facebook, for instance, seems to be pretty committed to it, but I think Google will be phasing it out because of Hangouts. If that happens, I will still be reachable throug KDE Talk and if that fails, then there will always be XMPP servers to join and you will find me there.
And if all of that fails, you should know I took some serious time to stabilize my IRC prescence. Yes, that's right: in this world of social chat and sending silly pics that will be deleted, I took some time to set up an IRC bouncer, SSL connections, IRC clients in all of my devices, and it is now another trusted communication channel to get a hold of me.
Who needs silly chat clients in days like these?