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Six Multi-Service IM Clients Reviewed 258

mikemuch writes "It's been a while since AOL stopped trying to jam third-party IM clients, and their use is now a fairly common desktop experience. ExtremeTech has posted a roundup of free alternatives to the standard IM software from the big boys — AIM, Yahoo Messenger, and MSN (now Windows Live) Messenger. The products are a mixed bag, some of them Web 2.0-based, like the excellent meebo and the ad-heavy eBuddy. Most give you combined message windows with tabs. GAIM is now Pidgin, Meetro tries to get you chatting with locals, and Trillian, now at version 3.1, remains the client to beat."
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Six Multi-Service IM Clients Reviewed

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  • And on Mac OS X... (Score:5, Informative)

    by daveschroeder ( 516195 ) * on Friday June 08, 2007 @07:40PM (#19445979) noted in the article [] but not in the summary, the "client to beat" is the excellent free, open source, GPL-licensed, and highly customizable Adium [] (more info []).

    (The summary does mention the other five of the six clients reviewed in the article.)
    • Your posts more misleading than the /. summary, the conclusion of the article isn't that at all, only that adium is the best for the Mac.

      From TFA "For pretty much every capability of the standard IM clients plus extras like extensive message history and emotiblips, get the paid version of Trillian If you're a Mac user, your chief alternative at this point is Adium. Two more choices along these lines are the SightSpeed and the Swiss Army knife-like Raketu."

      • arg, tired, didn't spot your posts title till after I'd submitted, I'd only seen the text, sorry :(
      • by Korin43 ( 881732 )
        Isn't adium just a ripoff of gaim/pidgin with a mac-looking skin?
        • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) * <slashdot,kadin&xoxy,net> on Friday June 08, 2007 @11:33PM (#19447801) Homepage Journal
          I don't think you should put it that negatively.

          Gaim/Pidgin is broken into two components. It has a library part and a UI part. Most Linux users think of these as one product, but Adium uses the gaimlib backend but then has a very polished Mac frontend that uses it.

          It also incorporates OTR messaging, pretty robust logging features, good account-management ... all in all, its frontend and UI are far better, IMO anyway, than Gaim's is on Linux or Windows. (And it's better than the vendor-supplied clients, obviously ... but sending scraps of your own flesh by carrier pigeon are also better than those bloated nightmares.)

          As far as a user is concerned, Adium is an entirely different product from Gaim/Pidgin, because even though it uses the same communication libraries, all the UI is different.
          • by Korin43 ( 881732 )
            I thought that adium was basically gaim restyle to match OSX, in which case it would sort of be cheating to list it separately from gaim/pidgin. I didn't realize there were any other differences..
            • I thought that adium was basically gaim restyle to match OSX, in which case it would sort of be cheating to list it separately from gaim/pidgin. I didn't realize there were any other differences..

              Other than the common dependency on the same library, known as libpurple (as it is now known), they are very different. You should think of Adium as third-party IM that happens to use libpurple. Adium has already used other libraries for features that libpurple just didn't implement well or at all. The Adium develo
    • by chrispl ( 189217 )
      As a recent convert from Windows and Trillian, Adium really impressed me. Fast, non-bloated, gorgeous UI, very customizable. The only thing that Trillian has it beat on is support of video and audio chat.

      Also, it satisfies my need of having an animated Domo-kun in my dock letting me know if I have any IMs.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        As a recent convert from Windows and Trillian, Adium really impressed me. Fast, non-bloated, gorgeous UI, very customizable. The only thing that Trillian has it beat on is support of video and audio chat.

        Yup, it this is certainly a major feature that is missing. Up until now the developers of Adium have not wanted to touch this, since they say this is not in their realm of expertise. Since Adium is using libpurple, this support will likely come once it is incorporated into the library. This is something whi
  • One word (Score:5, Insightful)

    by darkwhite ( 139802 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @07:44PM (#19446011)
    • I've used kopete for some years now, but I'm getting increasingly irritated with certain things about it. I'm hoping KDE 4 brings some genuine innovation back into the client, because it used to be my favourite for a reason - I just feel like development has stagnated lately.
    • Several More Words (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @10:13PM (#19447245) Homepage Journal
      Kopete, Miranda, Proteus, Fire.

      Their list of 6 is pretty sparse..
  • bsflite (Score:5, Informative)

    by John Nowak ( 872479 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @07:53PM (#19446069)
    If you want a very lightweight text-based IM client for *nix, try bsflite []. I've been very happy with it.
    • by Sancho ( 17056 )
      That's just AIM, though. The article is talking about multi-service clients.

      I'd just about kill for a command-line client that worked /well/ with Jabber, AIM, and MSN.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by vhogemann ( 797994 )
        Try centericq then...

        Despite the name, it does MSN, Yahoo, AIM, Jabber(gTalk)... and ICQ.
        • by Sancho ( 17056 )
          I'd tried it before and found problems (I think it was SSL not working, but I could be misremembering). Seems to work well, now, so thanks for reminding me of it!

          I'm also going to look into Finch. Options are a wonderful thing.

          Thanks again!
      • by dave1g ( 680091 )
        oops i think I meant to send this to you

        GAIM -Text is now called finch, this is an ncurses text mode interface to all the networks that pidgin supports [] []
        • by Sancho ( 17056 )
          I'll definitely check that out! If it supports jabber chats and SSL, I may well be sold!
    • From Debian's package: "A console client for AOL Instant Messenger and IRC. Naim is a console-based client for AOL Instant Messenger, IRC, and Lily. It supports the TOC protocol and can store its buddylist on AOL's servers."
    • by dave1g ( 680091 )
      GAIM -Text is now called finch, this is an ncurses text mode interface to all the networks that pidgin supports []
  • Miranda? (Score:5, Informative)

    by PhrostyMcByte ( 589271 ) <> on Friday June 08, 2007 @07:54PM (#19446085) Homepage
    What about Miranda []? It starts out minimal, supports all the regular IM service, and lets you extend it as far as you want with addons (there are many to choose from).
    • Re:Miranda? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by flakier ( 177415 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @08:00PM (#19446135) Homepage
      Beats the bloated trillian hands down. Not only that, source is free =) I can't believe it wasn't part of the article
    • I just cannot get Miranda to talk to my employer's email disaster -- Lotus Notes 7.0.2 (or previous versions of Notes for that matter). My co-workers who use GAIM? Plug & play baby, plug & play. I haven't the heart to uninstall Miranda because I've invested so much time and effort trying to configure it to work (don't tell my managers...) and because I'm a bit of an anarchist. For now I just limp along with the lamer than lame Notes IM client.
    • Re:Miranda? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by arashi no garou ( 699761 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @09:24PM (#19446845)
      Agreed. My favorite thing about Miranda is that it runs very well from a USB thumb drive. Put it with PortableFirefox, PortableThunderbird and a few other flash-friendly apps and you can take your entire internet desktop with you.
    • Does Miranda do AIM buddy icons yet? Last I played with Miranda, it was a PITA to set up with any resemblance to Gaim's functionality. It *was* nice having a microscopic memory footprint, though.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Xeriar ( 456730 )
      When I load up Miranda (~200 contacts between AIM, ICQ, YIM, MSN, and GTalk), it takes up a whopping three megabytes of RAM.

      Occasionally group features and file sends get broken for some protocols (sadness) but nothing beats its footprint.
  • Trillian... (Score:2, Informative)

    by morari ( 1080535 )
    I've been using Trillian for years and still like it the best. Gaim is nice in it's simplicity and cross platform use however. I keep trying Kopete but never use it frequently enough to adjust to its little quirks.
    • by antdude ( 79039 )
      Same here for Trillian (Basic). It's not that bloated. In Linux, I use Gaim/Pidgin. If Trillian existed in Linux, I would use it too.
      • I wouldn't. Gaim supports so many more protocols than Trillian does (although Trillian does have a nicer UI). However, I don't like the idea of forking out $25 for the ability to use gtalk.
        • by antdude ( 79039 )
          Yeah, it has missing features like Gtalk. Gtalk is useless for me to due to my speech and hearing impediments.
    • Someone help me...I can't for the life of me figure out where this "enable/disable" thing came from. It's not intuitive, it's somewhat crude, and a pain in the rear. It's not that way on the Linux version, but someone who did the windows port thought it was a good idea. I strongly disagree. A simple "log in/log out" would be a welcome step forward.
  • by Poromenos1 ( 830658 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @08:06PM (#19446167) Homepage
    I am quite disappointed by the choice of clients. MSN's client is bloated and I've asked them to add an option to STOP THOSE STUPID WINDOWS FROM BLINKING when you get a message when it was back in version 4. It's something like 11 now, and I have yet to see that little option.

    Miranda IM is small and fast, but lacks in features and it has this annoying thing where the send control is disabled for a while after you send a message.

    Trillian is the best of all but still has many bugs (slow, can't disable video/audio plugins which I never use, it doesn't update MSN names, it doesn't use upnp or let you forward ports yourself, etc etc).

    Pidgin is rather nice but it lacks many features as well (ctrl+tabbing through windows never worked for me, pressing escape doesn't close the window, it constantly gets moved to the second screen, is rather slowish, etc).

    It's too bad that with this many clients there isn't a great one. Trillian comes close, but it does need a bit of improvement still.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      In my opinion the msn client is ctually very good for everything except memory usage and how much CPU power it uses when it logs in (very annoying on dodgy wireless with a slow laptop). I tried pidgin, it crashed on me with in half a hour both times i used it, i haven't touched it since. I plan to try trillian when i get around to downloading and installing it, hopefully i will be pleasantly surprised, i never liked the old versions of it (about 3 years ago was the last time i used it)
      • Well, MSN doesn't support tabs, which is very annoying. Trillian is better than MSN by leaps and bounds, and Pidgin did crash for me in the beta but the final version seems to run well...
    • Adium is damn good. Open source, but mac only so there is that bit.

      It has convinced everyone I know that im's a lot to get a mac. One was a trillian user as well.
    • by Poromenos1 ( 830658 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @09:07PM (#19446713) Homepage
      I would like to retract some of what I said. I just downloaded the latest Miranda version to see how far it had gone and I must say that I am impressed. There are many plugins and it loads in under half a second on my 5 year old machine. I am confident that once I wade through the hundreds (literally) of options, I will have it working just the way I like it. I urge you all to try it. There is even a tabbed windows plugin, it looked good in the default install, I changed an option and now it looks like crap (literally, it's light brown).
      • option and now it looks like crap (literally, it's light brown).

        Hey, at least it matches my Zune! ;-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jacksonj04 ( 800021 )
      Trillian 4 seems pretty sturdy, and the featureset matches most of the native clients. Sadly all but critical fixes for the 3.x series seem to have ceased in favour of v4 development, but on the plus side it looks to be set to re-affirm Trillian's place as 'the best' of the multi-IM clients.
    • Trillian is the best of all but still has many bugs (slow, can't disable video/audio plugins which I never use. . .).

      Close Trillian, open "C:\Program Files\Trillian\plugins" and rename "av.dll" to something else.
  • adless, one page (Score:2, Informative)

    by froggero1 ( 848930 )
    • Your link automatically redirects. What you need to to is just click "print" underneath the "Options" Column beneath the article.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08, 2007 @08:09PM (#19446199)
    why would I use some adware instead of open source?

  • Trillian? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by loconet ( 415875 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @08:13PM (#19446233) Homepage
    In this day an age where Linux on the desktop is more and more common, I don't consider an IM that only works on Windows a serious contender.
    • You're right, Windows is definitely a niche market.
    • In this day an age where Linux on the desktop is more and more common, I don't consider an IM that only works on Windows a serious contender.

      you might not. but in the larger market of IM users, how significant is Linux?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Adium only works on OS X.
      Now THATS a niche market. ..but good on them for filling it...
  • bitlbee (Score:2, Interesting)

    by weteko ( 1022621 )
    I personally enjoy bitlbee quite a bit more than any other IM client. Just connect with whatever IRC client you like and there you go! Perfect integration with emacs, no blinky lights, no nothing.
  • Trillian (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hattig ( 47930 )
    I found Trillian to be a horribly bloated, very unstylish, and difficult to configure application.

    It seems that the only pluses it has is that it does modern internet communications media (voice and video) on these networks. I'm hoping that they've fixed the configuration system too since I last tried it.

    Adium on the Mac is pretty damn good, and deserves the 8/10. 9/10 and 10/10 would be Adium with voice and video support respectively. The interface styles are all very sophisticated and configurable, and it
  • How about a port of Pidgin or some other open source (ad free) messenger for WinCE 5 (on an HTC Wizard)? The software that comes with the TMobile MDA blows (and uses SMS).
    • I'd recommend Octro []. I found it a few months back and have been very happy with it for the most part. It's a Jabber/GTalk client, but it works fine with transports to other networks and (if I'm not mistaken) the Octro people supply some as well. It also can use Google Talk's VoIP and I *think* allows access to the PSTN as well. Right now it's free because they're still testing it, and I think it's supposed to be commercial later, but it's definitely worth it. Oh, it supports file transfers too. I use
  • Yahoo features (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Frankie70 ( 803801 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @08:19PM (#19446295)
    The Yahoo client has some features all of
    which aren't available on the other clients.

    - At login time, itself you can invisible. In
    some other clients, I have tried, you have first
    login as visible & then change to invisiblw

    - You can be invisible overall, but just visible
    to one person or a group of people.

    If I find a client in both of these features
    are available, I'll switch.
    • by antdude ( 79039 )
      Trillian v3.1 can do this too for its ICQ, MSN, and AIM component. I log in invisibile as default.
  • Oddly missing were a host of good Linux offerings like Kopete (the built in kde client).
    • by MadAhab ( 40080 )
      True. I've got nothing against gaim - I quite liked it when I use it. But since I'm primarily KDE desktop, Kopete works quite nicely.

      If one of them offered features the other didn't, I could easily change my mind.

      I've been using IRC since forever, I was a five-digit ICQ user (and still a 5-digit ./er). My issue with chat is that it's not a social hook-up for me - it's a communication pipeline like having a cell phone.

      And so, Gaim and Kopete are both great. I use AIM, because I must, I use jabber, I use my G
  • by Demona ( 7994 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @08:23PM (#19446325) Homepage
    They should have called it PING: Pidgin Is Not Gaim.
  • SIM (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Seems like a biased review. Another missing good instant messenger is SIM []
  • QQ (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @08:43PM (#19446539) Homepage
    QQ and ICQ are very popular in China. I'm not sure why, but I thought I'd mention it.
  • Interesting... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by helmutvs ( 912204 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @08:57PM (#19446631)
    Any one else notice that the only product that got their little "ExtremeTech Approved" logo was Trillian Pro, which costs 25 dollars? An interesting choice for a list of Free clients.
  • I've been using trillian. Not for months, but YEARS! I've destroyed computers in shorter periods of time, and all I can say is Trillian is amazing. They don't ask for money, they don't try to cheat or guilt you, but their pro offerings are worth the cash if you need it. I've rarely had crashes (mostly when doing odd things) and in the last year their internet transfers are blazing fast (90K+ to AIM users).

    Basically I want NOTHING more from trillian. It does everything it should in Basic and does it all w
    • "They don't ask for money"
      unless you want Jabber support, which is more important to me than any other protocol. All of their free (and mostly open) competitors offer Jabber without charging $25 for it.
      • The only place I know that uses Jabber is work. Trillian basic is what's been working for me for years as well. Perhaps the pro version is bloated, but I never had a problem with it back on my 400mhz Celeron(ok, I had a gig of ram, but still). It was version 3.1 as well.
  • Just 'cause no one else seems to have mentioned it:

    Trillian Astra, a.k.a. Trillian 4.0, is in alpha-testing at the moment.

    You can check out a feature preview here []. The memory footprint and speed are two of the things they've really worked on with this version, and it's got some pretty funky Web 2.0 functionality happening, too. (q.v. Trillian Mini [], this video [], etc.)
    • It requires Apollo/Flash to run "properly" (whatever it means). They are also moving towards ad-supported and bundled "partner" software model as per this post [] in their blog.

  • by AntiTuX ( 202333 ) on Friday June 08, 2007 @09:13PM (#19446757) Homepage
    Anyone else notice that they stated that there wasn't a windows version of Pidgin?

  • Do any of these have email notification? My main reason for running Yahoo! messenger is for that. I have only one contact on it who I actually talk to.
    • Pidgin does. I use it to let me know when I have mail on my GMail account through Google Talk.

      Unfortunately, there IS a drawback. It only lets you know about GMail when you first log on. I'm not sure if it treats other email services the same way or not.
  • by pb ( 1020 )

    Trillian, now at version 3.1, remains the client to beat.

    What, did they release a Linux version? No? Then it's already been 'beaten', as far as I'm concerned...
  • Trillian has been 3.1 for well over a year and hasn't changed unfortunately.

    I still use it, but with trepidation after discovering the hack-job workaround it uses to process aim:// links that no one ever uses.

    See I had this problem with my old computer that, something...some nefarious process was causing my RAID array to access once every second. And since it was four heads seeking every second it was pretty loud despite my efforts to build a quiet box. So I used Sysinternals freeware FileMonNT to find ou
  • I have been using for months now. It is great to have my full IM chat logs available any where. At work, home, pizza hut (they have free wifi), my parents house, anywhere. It just works great.
  • Trillian is slow (Score:2, Informative)

    by VGfort ( 963346 )
    Try having 200+ or 400+ people on Trillian and its slow as hell to load. Pidgin, loads them all up within a few seconds. Trillian is awesome, but I got tired of it having to load.
  • No advertising.
    Support for ICQ, AIM, MSN, and YAHOO.
    Support for encrypted messaging with others using the same client (this should work out of the box with automatic key generation).
    Support for voice and video features of the above networks.
    Support for voice conferences ala ventrillo.
    The ability to backup and import settings directly from the menus.
    The ability to categorize contacts but all contacts should be dropped into a single default list unless you move them manually.
    Creating multiple accounts on each
    • Of course the IM needs to be GPL'd, free as in beer, and available for windows and linux. (Sorry BSD guys, I think your project is a waste of resources UNTIL the day that the borg is toppled and real healthy competition can begin.)
  • Trillian is great, and was so at the beginning, but I feel the company has grown too big and they cannot excell as much as they once did.

"The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception a neccessity." - Oscar Wilde