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Mon, 29 Nov 2004
Growl vs Jabber?

Sometime last week I discovered remote growl, which looks to be really useful. I'd like to have some cron jobs on the Debian boxes that I use as servers, and have them report stuff to my PowerBook via growl.

A few days later I discovered this post on a network packet format for Growl. It was neatly juxtaposed with a rant on Jabber. Of course, I then started thinking about how what I really want isn't Growl, it's for jabber and clients, etc to shape up to the point where I could use Jabber to do much of what I'd use remote growl for. Sure, under some circumstances I'd prefer that my traffic not go through a public XMPP server, but I could always run one inside the firewall for that slice of my traffic. There's even a command line tool, sendxmpp, that would be the perfect basis for doing this from cron/scripts/etc. The problem is that there isn't a client in sight that can do some of the cool stuff that Joe mentioned to me. Having the best, most capable protocol is irrelevant if you don't actually have good software that implements it.

At least the Adium boys are increasing their Jabber support, particularly group chats. Selective presence sure would be nice.

[23:36] | [computers/internet] | # | TB | F | G | 9 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

It's funny seeing this come full circle.  In the late eighties I worked on MIT Project Athena's Notification Service, called Zephyr.  Not only did the term "instant messaging" come rather later, that aspect of it was not part of the design - Zephyr was originally implemented to notify users of specialized system-related things.  After all, in a complex distributed system, how do you figure out who cares about what components? In this case, the answer was a subscription triple, and when you engaged a service you also "subscribed" to messages for that instance of the service (for example, the fileserver name or the printer name, tied to a category.) Then a fileserver outage would be announced to the subscription, and go to the right people.  Likewise, you had individual messages (so you could get notified when your print job was done.)  There was an initial pop-up-window client, and other more text-oriented ones later. Since the initial client had a scripting language and stylesheet system, all later ones have as well. In the early nineties, instant messaging "bloomed" out of this - people could send personal messages with it, and "chat" channels happened as a side effect of the existence of subscriptions and some generous ACLs.  (Oh yes, it had ACLs and kerberos-based authentication from day one.)

So when I first saw Growl, I thought "just like windowgrams" and used the python library to toss messages to it from my existing client.  Don't know how well it works, Growl wedged my windowserver, I determined that it was reproduceable, reported it, and never fired it up again...

When I look at jabber/xmpp, I don't compare it to AIM or MSN because I don't use those.  I compare it to zephyr, and it comes up short - on authentication, on inter-server communication, on endpoint naming (I want messages to come to my identity, not an instance of a client, even AIM is supposed to have fixed this...) I've had a hard time explaining this to people who come from big-server-IM systems (I had a hard time at IETF IMPP meetings, and didn't have time to try with the later XMPP effort) and none of the zephyr users or admins I've talked to see jabber as a credible replacement for what we do with zephyr, even if it becomes a competitor to what people do with AIM.  This is, as you can probably tell, frustrating... Zephyr has it's share of problems, and it would be nice to be able to move along with the mainstream, it just seems to have missed so much that seems obvious.

Sorry for getting quite so far off on a tangent, there... the point is that yes, system notifications are what this kind of thing is really good for, and we've known that for 15 years :-)
Posted by
Mark Eichin at Tue Nov 30 22:33:56 2004

Now, to answer your other questions (Peter does a good job of addressing Mark's misconceptions about Jabber/XMPP). There is a short list of recommended clients at http://www.jabber.org/software/clients.php but not a full feature matrix. The feature matrix would need to be fairly large -- see the feature matrix we use for servers at http://www.jabber.org/software/serverdetail.php?projectID=2 and so on -- and it is a lot of work to gather that level of information for the dozens of Jabber clients in existence. However, I will make that a priority for early 2005. Yes, it would be nice to have one client that does 1-to-1, groupchat, system alerts (that's really a jabber message of type 'headline', but you need to be able to manage the alert sources and it would be best to do that with pubsub, which is just starting to mature), voice, and video. Most advanced Jabber clients do the first three, plus file transfer. Voice and video have not been tackled yet because they're not exactly straightforward and (see previous comment) these clients are all open-source. Feel free to request features and submit bugs for your Jabber clients of choice, however. Developers appreciate that rather than vague complaints that "Jabber sucks compared to Zephyr or Growl".
Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at Wed Dec 1 10:05:43 2004

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