In the decades following the invention of the Internet, dozens of programs and protocols have been developed to facilitate communication between computers. For example, we have instant messaging protocols, email clients, chatroom networks, and more.
For most of us, chatrooms might seem like a relic of the past, but they’re still around. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, you’ll want to look into the IRC protocol. For those of you who are already familiar with IRC, you can jump past the next section to the list of awesome IRC clients for Windows 7. For those of you who have never heard of IRC, here’s a quick crash course.
What is IRC?
In the simplest of terms, IRC is a network of chatrooms where each individual chatroom is called a channel. Channels are hosted on servers, and each server maintains its own network of channels. Using an IRC client, you can connect to a server and join the channels on that server. By doing so, you’ll be able to chat with other users who have connected to the same channels on those same servers.
IRC first arrived on the scene in 1988 and experienced its peak popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Prior to the current prevalence of Internet forums and message boards, IRC was one of the best ways to foster community and chat with people of similar interests.
Today, IRC is still running strong, though it tends to be used as more of a supplement to web communities that have already been established through websites and forums.
mIRC was once the best IRC client for Windows and still remains as one of the most downloaded and most used clients today. Having been in development for over a decade, this client is full of advanced features – like scripting – that outshine its competitors.
The downside to mIRC is that it is shareware – it comes with a 30-day free trial. When the trial runs out, you’ll still be able to use the program, but you’ll need to put up with an annoying splash screen that lasts for a few seconds every time you start up the program.
X-Chat was one of the first real contenders to mIRC. Today, it is one of the most well-known IRC clients on the web. The project is open source so not only can X-Chat be used on Windows, it can be used on Linux, too.
Like mIRC, the original X-Chat has since become shareware with a 30-day free trial. Unlike mIRC, X-Chat cannot be used past the initial 30 days. If you aren’t willing to shell out the one-time registration fee of $19.99, then you should look elsewhere.
If you like X-Chat and cannot afford to register it but wouldn’t mind using an older, stripped-down version, you may want to look into X-Chat 2. This is a free build of X-Chat for Windows meant to circumvent the shareware nature of its predecessor.
HydraIRC is an IRC client that was designed to make the whole IRC experience as easy and painless as possible. Whereas IRC was once usable only by the tech-literate, HydraIRC has constantly worked towards making IRC easy for the newest beginners while still retaining the advanced settings that power-users desire.
The client is free and open source and packed full of awesome features, like themes, plugins, notifications, and reg-ex highlighting.
One of the oldest IRC clients around, KVIrc has been in development for over 10 years – and its feature set reflects the time spent in development. In particular, this client has extensive scripting support that allows for user customization. Unlike most full-featured IRC clients, KVIrc is portable, meaning it can be used without first having to install it. Run it straight off of a thumb drive if you wish.
Since KVIrc is built on the Qt GUI toolkit, it is cross-platform. In addition to running on Windows, KVIrc has official binaries for Mac, FreeBSD, and certain flavors of Linux.
Coming out of Germany is Nettalk, a free and open source IRC client with a smart interface built on the Windows standards. The default layout is simple and intuitive, allowing beginner IRC users to grab hold of the reins quickly with ease.
One of the great things about Nettalk is its out-of-the-box support for multiple languages – English, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, Chinese, Hungarian and German. On top of that, it has many of the features that IRC clients are now expected to have – plugin support, scripting support, easy customization, and more.
The developers describe Quassel as a modern, cross-platform, distributed IRC client: modern, meaning full of the features that you would expect from an IRC client today; cross-platform, meaning available on Windows, Mac, and Linux; distributed, meaning something that is uniquely awesome.
Quassel’s defining feature is its distributed nature. As a distributed client, Quassel attaches and detaches itself from a central core that runs permanently online. The core keeps track of your session, so you can detach when you need to leave and reattach when you’re available again – and you won’t have missed a single thing!
Quassel IRC is both free and open source.
Some might find ThrashIRC to be overly prideful because the development team has self-proclaimed their client to be the “best IRC client for Windows.” Whether or not that’s true is up to you to decide.
ThrashIRC comes equipped with all of the modern features expected of an IRC client with a few extra bonuses. The best thing it has going for itself is that it’s feature-filled while using very few system resources. No adware, no spyware, and lots of stability.
But what’s their best feature? According to their website, ThrashIRC has the “best smileys.”
So there you have it. These are 7 of the best IRC clients for Windows 7. Each of them has its own community of fans and supporters, so it’s hard to say whether any of them are any better than the others. If nothing else, give them all a shot, see how they meet your requirements, and come to your own conclusions.
Do you know of any other IRC clients that deserve to be on this list? Feel free to share them in the comments.
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