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I use a corporate IM system that "helpfully" provides 14 "buddy" lists containing between them upwards of 300 people, no more than 10 or 20 of whom I actually have any reason to IM with. I've tried removing the unnecessary groups in Pidgin, but next time I log in, they're all back.

Is there any way in Pidgin to permanently ignore server-side buddy groups, or permanently hide them? Failing that, can anyone suggest a good XMPP client for Linux that provides this functionality?

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Pidgin allows you to roll-up groups. I'm unaware of any way to block server-side groups at startup--Pidgin is designed to sync with the server-side lists--but at a minimum you should be able to roll up all the groups you don't care about, and simply copy the folks you do communicate with to a new group that you can leave expanded.

Pidgin remembers the expansion state of groups between invocations, so this will at least enable you to hide the people (if not the groups) that you aren't interested in tracking in your buddy list. That's certainly an improvement, if not necessarily the solution you were hoping for.

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