Friends, family and customers frequently wonder which instant messaging client I use. The answer is the free Pidgin. That allows you to connect to multiple services like Yahoo, GMail (Jabber), MSN, AOL, ICQ, IRC, MySpace and more. And is available for the MacOS, Linux and Windows platforms.
There’s even a Skype plug-in for Pidgin but because of the Skype platform model, you also need to have Skype running. Which sort of defeats the purpose of a single IM client? Just use Skype for text, voice and video chats
Yes, some features like voice chat (VoIP) and file transfers are either crippled or plain not available. But I like my all-in-one client which uses fixed system resources. And runs multiple chat sessions via a tabbed pop-up. Instead of multiple clients with their own chat windows. Pidgin connects directly or through a proxy. And you can set each account’s connection individually.
My company has standardized on an internal OpenFire (Jabber platform) chat server for inter-employee communications including file sharing. Doing so has really simplified our LAN configuration since we no longer need to use Active Directory to share files among computers.
And for members of the super-paranoid tribe, you can encrypt communications using Encryption or OTR (Off The Record) add-ins. Once installed you have to setup private and public keys. Then send a chat request with public key to your buddy (also using Pidgin). Who accepts the request and adds the key to their certificate store. Now all chats between you two are encrypted.
A network admin buddy tells me that unlike other IM chats displayed in plain text in server access logs, OTR communications display as hashes. Pretty neat, dontcha’ think?
There are other free clients available like Digsby and Miranda. But my experiences with both haven’t been very good. The open-source Digsby requires that you first register an account with them to use the client. I don’t see why I need to add another gateway with potential access to my buddy lists and private conversations.
Miranda has been very unstable for me. Not only are there frequent crashes; usually in the middle of an important chat. But setting up Miranda isn’t very easy. You need to activate just about every feature. In Pidgin where key features are activated and you only need to disable the ones you don’t need or want.