The number of instant messaging services have exploded, since the first instant messaging service, ICQ was launched, back in 1996. Since then, there have been several others in the scene and users have chosen more than just one as their messenger of choice. Unfortunately, this means that those users need to run several clients at once and juggle between different Windows, while chatting with their contacts. To address this issue, third-party developers started working on all-in-one messengers that supported a variety of protocols. These clients are usually ad-free, offer better customizations and features, while staying relatively lightweight, in comparison to the bulky native clients developed by instant messaging services, themselves.
Windows being the most used operating system around the world, we’ve decided to compile a list of the top, free all-in-one-messengers you should check out.
Compact, portable, tweakable messenger client
Miranda IM is a personal favourite for a number of reasons. It’s free and is extremely lightweight in comparison to some of the others available on the web. The installer, for example weighs in at around 3.1 MB and the entire application takes a couple of megabytes of memory on idle. It supports pretty much every popular instant messenger protocol on the web, out of the box. Its low dependence on system resources comes from the fact that its interface is quite basic and the plug-ins are really small. Of course, if you want a fancy looking user interface, the add-ons section of the site has countless number of skins and themes and interface modules that you can install. For example, you can set it up as your RSS feed reader or even a Facebook chat client, by installing a tiny plug-in that takes no more than a minute to install. All this makes it one of the most customizable all-in-one instant messengers out there. If you like tinkering around with the software, you’ll like this even more.
A simplistic all-in-one instant messenger
Pidgin has come a long way from its early days. Development started more than a decade ago, and it had previously been known as GAIM. Unlike Miranda IM, Pidgin is available on a number of other operating systems, such as Linux OS and OS X, besides Windows. Like Miranda IM, there’s no shortage of plugins here. Pidgin’s third-party plug-ins are neatly categorized and listed on a Wiki page, but lack screenshots and other details, like the plugins found on Miranda. It’s also a slightly heavier package overall. Pidgin uses the GTK toolkit on Windows, so the look of applications is different from the rest of the Windows applications, in terms of design and user interface aesthetics. Some might not like the look of the client in general, but in terms of functionality, it’s undoubtedly feature-rich.
One of the first, well ahead of its time
Trillian was one of the first, really popular all-in-one instant messengers. It’s been easily one of the best looking instant messengers out there, even when it was first introduced for the desktops. It was first available as a commercial program for the desktop. For its time, it supported all of the popular messaging services. It supports a variety of protocols, including support for Facebook, Twitter and also IRC. The free version can be upgraded to Pro, which offers a few additional benefits, such as no ads, customer service as well as the ability to store chat conversations on the web. It was launched recently as an instant messenger for mobile platforms as well, where it’s available for free on their respective app markets. The BlackBerry version is currently paid, but you can download the Android and iOS versions for free.
One of the newest, some really unique features
Digsby is one of the newest all-in-one instant messengers to have hit the web. It sports an attractive user interface, but it isn’t as impressive as Trillian, for example. It supports Facebook chat and lets you quickly access emails linked to those chat clients. It also acts as your news reader by supplying you updates from your Twitter and Facebook accounts. There are plenty of integrated themes and skins for the contact list and messaging windows, too. There are some unique features that make Digsby stand out from the rest – such as the ability to merge multiple contacts or quickly respond to messages using pop-ups, thus avoiding opening up the contact list and new windows each time. Like the others in this list, Digsby is also available for free for download to Windows, as well as OS X and Linux.
A more refined client than Pidgin
Instantbird is yet another all-in-one instant messenger, but one that’s based on Pidgin. However, it has a bit more refined user interface and a more simplistic design. Twitter and Facebook support, along with the rest of the popular protocols, such as Google Talk, Jabber, MSN, Yahoo!, etc are all part of this package. The client has its roots in XULRunner environment that’s also used for other popular packages, such as Firefox and Thunderbird. It’s most obvious when you browse through the Options menu in the program. Like Digsby, Instantbird also offers users to install new themes and emoticon packs. Instantbird is one of the heavier instant messengers around, taking over 50 MB of memory when idle. Nevertheless, it’s feature-rich and free for download for Windows, OS X and Linux.
If you like an instant messenger more than any one of these, do share it with us. Drop us a line in the comments section below.
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