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IRC server configuration

I would like to set up an IRC server, I think....

I am thinking I would like to set up something more like an IM process than the more open IRC process. I would like to be able to "chat" with specific (invited?) people in real time. But I don't want it completely open like IRC servers typically are.

I don't have the interest or the bandwidth to run a IRC server for all the various chat-rooms out there. But more along the lines of having a chat server that can be set up for dedicated groups of people (read family & friends).

Seeing as I'm pretty bad with IRC in general, I know enough comands to get on, chat, get off, I thought it would be sensible not install a chat server but instead ask the following:

What are some chat servers out there that would be good (simple, secure)?

Or would it be more effective to install some kind of dedicated IM (jasper?) and work my way up from there. One feature I really want to have is the feature of a chat-room having many people. IM's typically don't do this, but I'm not very experienced.

Is there any recommended RTFM activities I should take up first?

I don't need much functionality right now, so I don't know that I need a very fancy/feature-rich application.

I do have a requirement to go cross-platform:
Linux, Windows 98-XP and possibly Mac 9.x.

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