Boil it all down, and really it’s just about words. You change some words into electronic pulses, and they’re transmitted around the world to someone else, who converts them back into a meaningful thought. Sometimes a picture is more useful than words, but I don’t think I would be going too far out on the proverbial limb if I said ultimately, it’s all about words.
To that end, I’ve been surprised to find so many chat and text relay clients for the terminal. But I shouldn’t be, because again, working at the terminal is focusing your efforts and your energy primarily on words. Images have their place and their applications, but text is paramount.
Here’s a six-in-one image for you, to illustrate what I mean.
At top left is centerim, and beneath that mcabber. At top right, naim and beneath it finch. That’s four console-based applications all devoted to the exchange of words, and the transmission of those words between you and someone else. And those aren’t the only ones available.
I can only vouch for one of these applications — centerim — because of course, to use all of them I’d need either an account that they all can access, or a bunch of other accounts specific to the services they may or may not use. And so I’m sorry, but I’m not signing up for four different chat services, just to take a screenshot.
Anyway, depending on your service of choice, there are probably one or two options here for you, and others that might not be listed. naim is mostly AIM, if I understand it right. mcabber is for Jabber. centerim and finch, I believe, will handle a variety of protocols, and possibly duplicate some others. So if you have two or three accounts you might consider saving a little time and effort, and using the one that accesses all of them.
Each program handles its own configuration and controls separately, so again, pick the one that applies to your service, then hunker down for an hour and figure out how it works. Speaking only for centerim, it’s all menu-driven and quite easy to manage, and I can give it a personal blessing. For the others … well, sound off if you can.
I didn’t mention the two applications in the center yet — on top, weechat and below, elmo. Elmo is an e-mail suite that seems to have fallen out of development, which is unfortunate since I rather like it. alpine works for me and I’m not ready to abandon it yet, but elmo’s interface is likeable and configuration seems simple, so I might give it a full test run in the coming week. Too bad there’s no PKGBUILD or Pkgfile for it. …
weechat is, I guess, the alternative to the omnipresent irssi, and like elmo, it seems to have some admirable elements. Starting it up in Ubuntu shot me straight into irc.freenode.net, which is where I always end up anyway when I need chat-based assistance. So in that sense, it’s one less step to get online than irssi is. (Of course, there are ways around that too. It’s just worth mentioning.)
So why use any one of these over another? Well, it’s personal preference — the beauty of Linux, that is. You know what you need, you know what you like, and you know what your system can afford. Try them out, see which one fits, and then get back to those words.