Quality On Line Brings High-Quality Chat Server Online
Chat servers have become a crowded category of software, but there is always room for a new top contender like IRCXpro from Quality On Line. This IRC-compliant server, which supports readily available IRC client software, provides a strong suite of security and management features in a complete and well-designed package.IRCXpro from U.K.-based Quality On Line is one of the best chat servers we've seen in while. Nelson King explains why this IRCX-compliant server warrants a five-star rating.
Installation is quick and painless. In fact, most administrators will -- and should -- spend more time deciding which features to enable and configure than they will spend actually installing and configuring the server. Some general knowledge of Internet protocols and familiarity with chat jargon is helpful. In that regard, IRCXpro ships with a good PDF format manual, which we found consistently accurate, easy to follow, and helpful for planning.
The Remote Control utility, which generally runs on the server machine, is used for configuration and maintenance. The program operates much like other Windows management utilities, with an Explorer-like tree of services that expands or contracts for access to settings. You can use the Remote Control utility to link multiple servers, a scalability feature for up to 5,000 users with the IRCXpro Special Edition.
However, in general, the management and monitoring of Remote Control is designed for single server installations. The IRCXpro server has a light footprint (about 9 MB), and we found its performance to be better than average.Top Management
IRCXpro provides a number of server controls that affect performance, such as connection limitation, connection backlog (pending connections), connection throttling (how long before reconnection is allowed), and clone limits (control on multiple users from the same address). One feature we particularly liked was the ability to set the server for heavy load restrictions. If the server machine is experiencing high processor usage, IRCXpro will automatically switch into heavy traffic mode and restrict the use of processor-intensive commands. This is a small touch, but on hand-me-down servers it certainly will be appreciated.
It's assumed that IRCXpro users will select their own client program, and just about any IRC-compliant version will do. Specifically validated clients include: mIRC, PIRCH, Klient, Turbo IRC, Microsoft Chat, and Microsoft V-Chat. Support for "IRCX Extensions" (IRC 1459 compliant) is obviously desirable.
User nicknames and channels (in effect, rooms) can be registered, limited, and monitored in a number of ways. This includes required passwords for channels, access rights, viewing modes, and protection against overloading channels (e.g., with an array of bots). IRCXpro supports eight "channel modes", such as defining a channel as "clonable" or "hidden."
Control of the server and clients can be parceled out through Operators, which can be defined at several levels: Help Operator, IRC Operator, System Operator, System Manager, Global Operator, and Administrator. This graduated system makes it possible to gracefully handle administrative chores even for a large number of users.Safety First
As chat has matured and become a tool for business as well as personal use, the security aspect of chat servers has increased in importance. In fact, security is one of the main reasons organizations choose to operate their own server. And IRCXpro has a very strong list of security features with some unusual capabilities, such as client rules.
With client rules, each client address -- and this can vary by individual or a group such as a single ISP -- can have its own set of rules. This is more than just filtering based on address because rules can be used to trigger actions, both positive (like a customized greeting) and negative (ban the connection). Client rules can be used not only to validate users, but also to do things like determine the appropriate language and set alternate messages.
IRCXpro also offers more conventional security features, such as user login with registered nickname and password. Users can be validated with Ident lookup, IP/DNS masking, and IP spoof protection. Chat servers (like many others) are vulnerable to insecure proxy connections, which can be used to bypass bans or unleash bots and agent attacks. IRCXpro covers this with port scanning that will look for unwarranted access and can place a 60-minute ban on the offending client program.All-in-all
Rounding out the IRCXpro package are some useful features, such as word filtering (messages can be blocked for containing specific words (e.g., profanity), News Flashes that provide clients with information (could be chat related or advertising), and Memorandum Services that allow clients to leave message for people who are offline. Quality On Line also offers a companion IM Server.
The pricing is right for business use, as are the many management options. From documentation to server administration to the depth of security features, this is a well-designed and carefully thought out chat server. We highly recommend it.Pros: Very strong security features, including the ability to use client rules to manage any user/group address
Cons: Lacks any form of encrypted communication
Reviewed by: Nelson King
Original Review Date: 11/15/2002