Unix & Linux Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for users of Linux, FreeBSD and other Un*x-like operating systems. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Back in the stone ages, when men were men and women were women and Unix's competitor was VMS, Unix had a lovely talk (or ntalk, or ytalk) split screen IM command where you could talk and both parties could see what was being typed character by character, live (modulo netlag).

No newer IM program I am aware of offers more than a throbber indicating the other party is typing.

Are there any successor IM's that work like the older talk/ytalk/ntalk family? My understanding is that now they are hard to get working at all and deprecated as suffering chronic buffer overflow vulnerabilities. But the basic functionality they offered has something I have not seen in any IM I know of.

If there is not a successor, is there a way to get one of those family working on a Linux or NetBSD box so that users who have shell accounts and are logged in can talk via a command line login session?

share|improve this question
up vote 4 down vote accepted

You can still run a talk variant on modern unices. For example, both ytalk (last updated in 2005) and gtalk (GNU talk) (last updated in 2000) are available on Debian and Ubuntu today, and ytalk is in the NetBSD package collection.

I do not vouch for the security of these programs. I don't think anybody has been seriously interested in mentioning them. Only use them if you trust all the users who might be able to access the servers; tighten your firewalls accordingly.

The talk infrastructure is not really adapted to modern networks, as it requires one of the machines to act as a server on a known public IP address and port (so it is foiled by dynamic IPs, NAT and firewalls). It can still work without too much pain in an internal network (and that's the only place you should use it anyway, due to the lack of security).

As far as I know, none of the widely-used modern instant messaging protocols let you see what the other party is typing. Look for a collaborative editing or screen sharing program for a similar experience.

share|improve this answer
Thanks on several accounts. – JonathanHayward Oct 24 '12 at 5:02

The best and most secure approach today is to use a central Unix server with a shell account for each user (currently a small VPS is enough and can be very cheap). All the users log on this server via SSH and run some version of talk. They communicate with the other local users on this server.

I recommend ytalk as it allows for multiple users chatting all together.

If only two users are required I recommend utalk as it use a lightweight UDP protocol and allows editions.

If a GUI is a must, I recommend gtalk (GNU Talk), an X graphical gtalk session can be launched secured via SSH. It also has some other usefull features.

Finally the different talk versions are compatible to a some degree (with limitations), so every user can choose its own flavour of talk.

share|improve this answer

Try etherpad, which you can setup on any server. It is a text-only Google Doc variant.

Two persons using the same account on the same computer may use tmux attach to have a common session, vim included, but you share the same cursor.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.