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Lucid Chat: Pricy Discourse?
An Unobtrusive Chat Server
November 1, 1999
Designed to be a low-overhead and low-maintenance chat server, Lucid Chat is a refreshing alternative to high-maintenance chat servers that don't necessarily enhance the user experience yet eat up a disproportionate amount of system resources. Lucid Chat is also easy on the end user, needing no special chat clients, just a standard Web browser like Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.x--no Java plug-ins, ActiveX controls or Netscape plug-ins.
How do we define low maintenance? In terms of specific resources, Lucid Chat is a 316 KB download and requires about three megabytes of disk space for server binaries, customizable HTML templates and files. (You'll need five megabytes of hard-disk space during the installation process.) The Lucid Chat developers recommend that you plan on using at least 16 megabytes of RAM for supporting the chat daemon, with 32 megabytes preferable, as the more RAM available to the chat server the more users can be simultaneously supported. There's some overhead associated with the chat process, as each chat connection requires a persistent HTTP process. However, Apache will eat up less than 150K per chat user, so a system with 32 megabytes of RAM available to a chat server should support up to 200 simultaneous users. Lucid Chat has been tested with the Apache and Netscape Commerce Web servers, with Apache recommended (not a surprise, given Apache's ubiquitous presence on Linux servers).
There are some compromises that must be made on such a low-overhead server, however. The biggest is the lack of a total implementation of IRC conventions and commands. While users do have access to a few IRC-style commands, Lucid Chat doesn't support them all and conventions. For casual users in a corporate atmosphere, this isn't a big deal, but hardcore chat participants will probably miss the IRC support. Also, by working as a combination chat/Web server and not a pure IRC-chat server, Lucid Chat forces users to use a Web browser to participate, rather than an IRC chat client.
In addition, Lucid Chat is expensive when compared to other competing products for Linux, carrying a $695 list price for unlimited users and a $300 price tag for an added support contract. ConferenceRoom ships in three editions, all less expensive than the one edition of Lucid Chat, and for most ISPs and corporate sites any of the three ConferenceRoom editions would do. With additional charges for support, Lucid Chat can become an expensive proposition.