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OpenChat/2 v1.05- by Chris Wenham


The 32-bit PM IRC client, OpenChat/2 (Formerly known as OpenIRC) was only released last January, but I found it to outrank the other available OS/2 IRC clients that had been available longer by a wide margin. It's not just that it has more power or features, it's that it's gaining more of both on an almost weekly basis. This client is truly a hard one to beat and if you can get used to its "Unixy" feel you probably won't have any desire to go back to another client again.

Installation

The installation program has options for installing fresh or updating an existing setup. Once it's done you need to open the default startup script in a text editor and modify your nickname, username and other details. This step seems a bit crude since even the basic PMIRC has a dialog box for all this.

Scripts

OpenChat/2 isn't so much a complete IRC client as it is a powerful script interpreter with the plumbing underneath arranged for IRC. Like Emacs or EPM, to run it without a script doesn't make much sense since as much as 90% of its features are added by one. The user interface, colors, menus and almost everything you see is controlled by a script.

If that scares you, don't worry, OpenChat/2 comes with a default script that covers all the bases -- you don't actually need to edit or write one yourself. For the purpose of this review I'll also be talking about the first major third-party script written specifically for OpenChat/2, GemZ, available free from its web site -- mainly because it adds a lot to talk about and illustrates OpenChat/2's power nicely.

OpenChat/2 does not use REXX for scripting; instead it goes for the Unix IRCII compatible scripting language, extending it with several OpenChat/2 specific functions. This means that you can't use any of the advantages that come with REXX -- such as its common use across the platform, familiarity and availability of third party libraries -- but you do get the ability to run any of the already numerous IRCII scripts available, plus the astonishingly fast speed of OpenChat/2's engine. Where REXX scripted clients that follow the GTIRC convention will slow down the bigger the script gets, OpenChat/2 can have an enormously huge and complex script running with barely a heartbeat's loss in performance. If Max sold his soul to the devil to get this kind of speed we wouldn't be surprised at all. It really is fast.

User Interface

With the default color scheme OpenChat/2 (GIF, 12.7k) looks a bit like someone took a text-mode IRC client and poured it into a PM window frame, with white text on a black background and a status bar that looks exactly like one out of an old text mode client (albeit slightly 3D enhanced). The colors are very customizable; over 70 screen elements can have user defined colors. They can be changed just by positioning the mouse over an element (such as a nick, the status bar, prompt or whatever), holding down ctrl-shift and right-clicking. A dialog box will pop up allowing a choice of background and foreground colors. No color wheels though, you only get a choice of the basic 16.

OpenChat/2 doesn't have a right-side nick list like GTIRC or mIRC for Windows do. To see such a list you need to type "/names" at the prompt. However OpenChat/2's conversation text frame is very 'hot-clickable'; you can right-click on any nick as it is displayed when a person said something. This right-clicking will bring up a menu of actions and commands that can be performed such as granting or removing ops, checking the user's ID, performing XDCC functions, kicking, banning, adding to notify lists, pasting the contents of the clipboard as a private message and more.

And this is not the only place where the right-mouse-button is active. Right click on a blank space in the conversation text area and you'll get a list of channel-specific functions like pasting the clipboard contents publicly, changing to another window, checking your notify list or DCC progress. Another right-click on the status bar brings up even more, with settings and toggles you can change for each individual channel.

Under OpenChat/2 you have a separate window for each channel you're on, but these windows are so flexible you can even open up a connection to more than one server at a time (allowing you to chat on multiple networks). Type "/window new server irc.whatever.server.com:6667" and you're set. If that seems archaic, the GemZ script has a drop-down menu option to do the same thing.

With the ability to customize each of these windows separately comes one feature I really like: the ability to translate mIRC color codes on a per-channel basis. If one channel has a majority of mIRC users you can switch the translation on and see colored text the way the user intended it to be seen, and if another channel has a majority of IRCII or OpenChat/2 users then you can leave the translation off -- without interfering with the settings of the previous channel. Type "/save" and all of these settings are permanently saved between sessions.

But typing in an OpenChat/2 window is hindered somewhat by the single-line, horizontally-scrolling entry field. At a glance you can't see the whole text of what you've been typing (if it's long), only what can be seen in the width of the window that you've set. Also, using the mouse to select text you've typed isn't easy if it runs off the edge, since it scrolls by so fast it's hard not to overshoot and select too much. Selecting text in the conversation area is easier though, however, it always selects using 'rectangle' or 'column' mode and not following the flow of the text.

Convenience

Even with the default script it seems like all the common aliases are already there waiting for the user. "/j" works as an alias for "/join" for example, something that usually has to be configured manually under other clients. OpenChat/2 will not pester you with windows popping up suddenly either, automatically accepting DCCs as they come. A file transfer's progress is monitored in the status bar, cycling through if you should have more than one going. With GemZ one can even create a dedicated private messages window (GIF, 20.1k), rather than have query windows pop up automatically (a feature that is also available should you want it).

I fell in love with the Tab key after using OpenChat/2. On an empty line you can press Tab and the program will cycle through all the people who have sent you a private message since you started the session, prefixing their nick with "/msg", ready for you to type a private reply to them. If you use GemZ, combined with the dedicated messages window, you'll have something infinitely more convenient than the idea of keeping track of multiple query windows popping up everywhere.

But what sits in a class of its own in OpenChat/2 is the use of the tab key for completing long DCC commands. You can drag-n-drop (explained later) and pick from a file open dialog, but nine times out of ten I'll use the tab key.

Here's how it works. Say you type the following (where "*tab*" is a tap of the Tab key):

/dcc se*tab*Tr*tab*d:/im*tab*sc*tab*ar*tab*mes*tab*
Look carefully at the above, because each time you press the *tab* OpenChat/2 will expand what you've typed into the following:
/dcc send Trevor d:/image-bank/scenery/arizona/mesa1.gif
Only taking you a couple of keystrokes to do the whole thing. OpenChat/2's script (either the default one or GemZ -- both have this feature) is scanning your hard disk all the time, filling out the missing parts every time you hit the tab key. Taking the above example further, say you had several images in that directory named 'mesa1.gif', 'mesa2.gif', 'mesa3.gif' and so on. Tapping the Tab key multiple times at the end will cycle through each file that matches. What it boils down to is this: if your hands are already on the keyboard it's so much faster than messing around with dialog boxes or folder views. But yes, there is drag-n-drop too...

Drag-n-Drop

Dragging and dropping of files is handled well under OpenChat/2. Keep an open folder next to the client and you can just drag-n-drop files onto the nick of a person you want to send them to. Drop them onto you own nick and it'll set up an XDCC Offer list -- a menuing system with which you can offer files to others for automatic retrieval by request.

You can also drop what's called a "kicks file" onto a nick to boot them off the channel (if you're an 'op'), the file is just a list of smarty-pants comments that get randomly picked out as the reason for the kick. OpenChat/2 comes with a selection that you can use, some poking fun at our favorite monopoly from Redmond.

As you move the cursor over OpenChat/2's conversation area, valid 'droppable' nicks are highlighted with a little circle as visual feedback to tell you that you've got the right one.

Where else the Scripts take thee...

As pointed out at the beginning, scripts are so tightly bonded with this client it's hard to see where OpenChat/2 ends and a script like GemZ begins.

The GemZ script is maintained, improved and updated so often that new versions become available once every other day at times. At other times, the developer ('Gemini' on IRC) only releases updates every week. 'Gemini' is available on the Efnet IRC channel, #OpenChat, for requests, help and bug fixes. So is 'Mikh', the author of OpenChat/2. I've made a few requests myself, most of which became part of later revisions of the script.

For impressing the pants off mIRC users there's nothing like throwing their own colored text back at them with a quick cut-n-paste while holding the ctrl-alt keys down. With GemZ you can use a simple utility called Figlet and type messages in large 'ASCII Art' letters. Or right-click on any URL mentioned in the conversation area and you can send it to a currently running copy of Netscape to be loaded (options for WebEx and Lynx are there too). And if someone likes to use ANSI escape codes for color instead of the regular '^C' codes, no worries, GemZ translates those too.

If you have the latest PMView installed you can toggle on an option in GemZ called 'AutoPreview' and watch .gif and .jpg files build up on your screen as they get DCCed to you. Going away-from-keyboard for a while? The script will keep a log of everything said in the channel that has your nick mentioned in it somewhere, so you know who's talking behind your back.

Both scripts have a few whimsical features hidden in them too. With GemZ try playing with the /chefsay command a bit and see if you don't laugh yourself silly. :-)

Wrapping up

OpenChat/2 is like the Cadillac of IRC clients. It's comfortable, robust, fully featured and a smooth ride whenever you're on-line. Twerps, losers and momos fall by the wayside as the flood protection shuts out even the worst spammer, mIRC users playing around with their goofy colors no longer fill your screen with undecipherable 'non standard' color codes, and if a user is being just a wee bit too pesky for your channel, you can punt him into oblivion with a quick right-click on his name and a selection from the various outrageous and humiliating kicks. (Of course it's not all that barbaric out there. <g>)

I like the interface for the most part but there are a couple spots where it doesn't perform so well. The idea of making the conversation area 'hot right-clickable' is nice, but if the conversation is moving swiftly nicks can scroll out from under the cursor before you have a chance to click. Drag-n-drop has the same problem. With that out of the way my final conclusion is that OpenChat/2 kicks some serious rumpola.


 * OpenChat/2 v1.05
by Max Mikhanosha
download from the OS/2 Supersite(ZIP, 508k)
Registration:US$29.00
Chris Wenham is a Team OS/2er in Binghamton, NY with a catchy-titled company -- Wenham's Web Works. He has written comedy, sci-fi, HTML, Pascal, C++ and now writes software reviews.

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