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Mirc is my favourite chat utility. Originally I started in the Compuserve chat rooms years ago, but on leaving Compuserve (due to the exhorbitant per hour billing) myself and some friends took the plunge into using IRC - Internet Relay Chat.
>What is mirc.com? This is the website where one of the most popular chat clients (mIRC) can be downloaded. There are mirror sites throughout the word that the software, FAQs etc. can be downloaded from and the install file is quite small and easy to install (in fact it merely extracts not making any changes to your system). It also comes in 16 and 32 bit flavours. It's shareware produced by Khaled Mardam-Bey and has been undergoing various incarnations since 1995. Should you decide to register after the 30 day evaluation period it's a snip at £10.
>So what is IRC all about? IRC is one of the original methods of chatting on the internet. It's interactive, real-time chatting and the beauty is that you're not restricted to chatting with users from your own isp or those using the same chat client as yourself. Basically you connect to one of a myriad of IRC servers through a client such as mIRC (though there are many others that can be used such as vIRC, Microsoft Chat, java clients from web pages, Ircle for Macs, PIRCH, and a host of others - but this is meant to be a review of mirc so I'll stick to that).
>Why choose mIRC over the others? Well, mIRC is a client for windows machines, so if you're using any other operating system it wouldn't be a suitable choice. The beauty of mIRC (in my humble opinion) is that it's very simple to use. For a complete novice, just log onto one of the servers included on the initial list and after selecting a nickname and alternative (in case you get disconnected from a server or your own nickname is taken) together with a few other details you're ready to chat. You can select one of the most common channels from the Channels folder on the toolbar or /join any channel you like (you create the channel by doing this if it doesn't already exist). Some servers are tiny and some, like DALNET and EFNET are extremely large. Just keep looking around and chances are you'll soon find some like minded peole to talk to.
My other reason for liking mIRC is that it's so customisable and potentially very powerful. Not only can you chat, but you can also send and receive files from fellow users. You can install scripts to do various extra things (such as play sound files to your friends - mp3s, wavs and midis). You can also load popup files that allow you to create pretty ascii art to play to your friends and you can create aliases to shorten typing commands you use often. There are many help channels run by the servers where you can get help with scripting and other issues.
>Any negative features? As with most communities there is a seedy side to IRC - there are some very dubious channels out there, and it would be unwise to allow a child to go roaming around unsupervised. Also, there are hackers out there, and as with all internet usage, it's unwise to accept files from anyone that you don't know - just switch off 'auto-accepting' files to prevent accidentally accepting trojans etc. If you don't like the atmosphere of a channel that you're in, it's easy to vote with your feet and move elsewhere.
Personally I've been using this client for years now - there's always something new to learn as the software evolves. It pays to check mirc.com regularly for updates and/or new versions.
P.S. It's difficult to rate the Quality of Discussions as that depends on where you choose to chat. I've made countless new friends through this medium so find it excellent.