Best Free Instant Messaging Client

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Introduction

With the emergence of modern mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, sending instant messages with text, photos and other multimedia content has become more popular than sending a pure text SMS.

Unlike an SMS which you can send to anyone with a phone, an instant message needs the same app between two parties or in a group to communicate with. For this reason, you may end up using more than one IM app to communicate with others who are using the apps of their choices.

Otherwise you may opt for a multi-protocol IM client, which allows you to connect to multiple IM networks with features to easily manage your various IM accounts. For good reason too, it saves your system resources without installing too many apps on a single device.

All IM clients reviewed in this article have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and I'm certain there are users who will remain faithful to each.

 

Rated Products

WhatsApp Messenger  

A must-have instant messaging app to everyone for its popularity.


Our Rating: 
4.5
License: Free
Most popular, across multiple platforms, simple and easy to use, supported media files, end-to-end encryption, backup and restore.
No support for stickers widely used in other IM apps.
Read full review...

Google Allo  

An instant messenger with a personal assistant and smart reply.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free

An instant messenger developed and supported by Google with a personal assistant, smart reply, incognito chat and more.

Read full review...

Telegram  

A simple and secure communication app that's open source and synced across multiple devices.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
User privacy, secret chat; send files up to 1GB; send multiple images at once; create discussion groups up to 200 participants; needing only one registered phone number.
Problems encountered due to constant updates and fixes.
Read full review...

Trillian  

A cross-platforms IM client with multiple protocols support and eye candy design.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free (Limited features)
Flashy interface and designed to be very user-friendly, light on resources.
Installer includes toolbar and third party software, advertisements pop up in conversation windows, features limited in the free version.
Read full review...

Pidgin  

An open-source multi-protocol IM program with clean and simple design.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free (Open source)
Easy to use, cleanly designed and very functional. Non-commercial, open-source software and available for multi-platform.
No support for voice or video. Nobody's going to be blown away by its styling.
Read full review...

Miranda IM  

An instant messenger with support for multiple protocols and the most intensive set of plugins and customizations.


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Open source)
The application is very extensible through plug-ins.
Native User interface is minimalist, Complicated Preferences.
Read full review...

Honorable Mentions

  • Facebook Messenger, easy chatting with Facebook friends, plus group-chatting features and VoIP calls.
  • Skype, acquired and developed further by Microsoft, is best known for video calling capability and one of the cheapest VoIP services. It also offers free instant messaging services to compete with other contenders.
  • WeChat, a cross-platform and instant messaging application developed by Tencent, with most active users based in China besides other countries.
  • LINE, an IM app topping the market share in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, supports texts, images, video and audio, VoIP calls and video conferences.
  • eBuddy XMS offers cross-platform instant messaging services for the Web, Android, iOS, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry. The development of eBuddy Chat multi-protocol instant messaging client was discontinued.
  • imo, one of the popular apps to provide video call and chat services, is available for Android, iOS and Windows Desktop. Similar to eBuddy, it has stopped supporting third-party chat service and built out its own communications platform.

 

Related Products and Links

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Comments

Why isn't Instantbird reviewed?
http://instantbird.com/

I'm surprised that Jitsi hasn't been mentioned in this section.
It supports quite a few protocols as well...
Plus VOIP and video chat.
It's pegged as a Skype alternative...though I haven't tested the video capabilities.

It requires Java to run. Which is something to keep in mind.

http://www.jitsi.org

Thank you for your recommendation. Currently there is no editor assigned to this page. Hopefully one will come along soon and be able to act on your recommendation.

I've been using Instantbird lately as my IM client.
Instantbird is based on Mozilla Firefox, while using libpurple as a backend. (Pidgin, Adium)
Instantbird is incredibly user friendly, it walks you through adding accounts. And since it's based on Firefox, it supports addons.

I hope you all give it a try. :)

http://www.instantbird.com

Imo has removed support for 3rd-party services so this is no longer a valid option for connecting to multiple services. Is there a replacement, particularly accessible from portable devices?

Miranda has the NG (http://miranda-ng.org/) alternative version of Miranda IM with support for skins, themes Miranda IM, I'm using it now and it is very good.

Is IMO really safe?
I mean using a web page for instant messaging, doesn't that give them access to all your information and discussions?

Gizmo / hiddensanctum,

I'm wondering if the best free internet messaging networks should be reviewed and rated, not only IM clients. Having used some IM networks for years myself--decades--I've come to dislike a certain network (even your picks of best IM clients I don't like to use on a particular network). Namely, I've come to discontinue using the Yahoo IM network due to spam IMs. The other main IM network I've used is AIM (America Online IM) and I prefer it for not getting SPIMed.

Also worth considering:

It won't matter to all users, but it's worth considering how much an IM client mitigates or exposes private data. An IM provider stores IM's and contact details they 'see', but a multi-client whose provider logs extra data exposes the user on all their IM systems, not just one.

In this area, Trillian keeps a copy of the user's contact list in plaintext. The contact list is used for sync purposes, so it's legit, but it's not encrypted on their servers as (say) logins are. So contact renames, groups, etc are vulnerable. They may change this in future, but at the moment it's worth an observation as strong security is a good thing.

( source: https://www.trillian.im/policies/security/#5.3 )

also Pidgin is renowned for storing passwords in plain text. This is not much of a problem on a Linux system but on a Windows one they admit is "somewhat controversial"
On the matter see: [url]https://developer.pidgin.im/wiki/PlainTextPasswords[/url]

Gizmno - you might want to consider Jisti (https://jitsi.org) as a very strong contender. Things I like:

Free/open source
Very actively developed (as at 2013) and dates back to 2006 ish so a decent history
Cross platform (including x32, x64 and msi on Windows, which suggests devs have care and forethought)
Very wide range of protocols
IM, file transfer, voice, video
Appears mature

And as extra bonus features, it's just streets ahead on core infrastructure:

IPv4/IPv6 automated
NAT traversal
DNSSEC
About the only IM client to support open encryption standards built into the base code - OTR is often a plugin but here it's built-in, and Phil Zimmermann's STRP/ZRTP - about the only really secure standard for VoIP - is also built in.
Video/voice conferencing
SIP
A load more.

You might want to review and include it.

Thanks for the info, I'll look into it.

Pidgin is actually a 30 MB download for offline installation — this figure really makes sense, and 9 MB doesn't make any sense.

Digsby should be allowed back as... they are removing all those bundled software in their installer.

"We are removing all bundled offers shown during installation of Digsby. We hope this will make Digsby a better experience for you and your friends." - Digsby Blog

That blog post is from 2011. It also says Digsby has been acquired by Tagged.. the website of which has got yellow WOT rating, and has got that rating because of spamming. Since nearly 2 years, there has not been any new post on their blog, after this announcement, which makes the situation regarding development of Digsby quite doubtful. Unless we get something concrete on present situation, or future development of the program, I don't think it will be considered here. Atleast the Digsby site has now got green WOT rating. Still, the above facts do matter. Let's see what the editor of this category thinks.
I fully agree with Anupam on this matter. Since there have been no updates from Digsby themselves regarding to what exactly is going on with development, it is hard to recommend the product. Without any news of its future, it is hard to tell what exactly Tagged plans to do with the program. It is good news that the WOT rating is now green instead of yellow. But for now I am taking a "wait and see" approach.
Glad you agree :).