Best Free Instant Messaging Client

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Introduction

If you're like me, then you probably have friends and family using a variety of IM networks. One way to talk with people on each one of these networks, is to open an account for each and then download and install each IM client on your computer.

However, running four different IM applications on your computer uses a lot of system resources, is difficult to manage, and broadens your attack surface. Therefore, I would recommend using a multi-protocol IM client. These applications not only allow you to connect to multiple IM networks, but they are also advertisement free, more secure, and have features that allow you to easily manage your various IM accounts.

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.

Discussion
 

Software Clients

PidginOver the years there have been many different multi-protocol IM clients that have been developed and many have grown. However, for the average user, I would still recommend Pidgin (formerly Gaim). It is still the simplest to use and has a very clean design that does not seem like it’s from the XP era. Currently it supports AIM, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, Groupwise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MXit, MySpaceIM, SILC, SIMPLE, Sametime, XMPP, Yahoo!, and Zephyr. It also supports Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.

Although development has not been as bullish as it used to be, it still provides a simple yet elegant design with lot of functionality. There also has been a constant update to fix bugs and security issues. The program is completely ad free and provides various plugins that one can add to the program such as Guifications and SkypeIM support.

But like any program there are still some limitations. One of the major drawbacks is that there is no support for voice or video. However if you are looking for a simple open- source multi-protocol IM program, Pidgin is for you.

 

Miranda IMIf you are someone who loves to customize and tweak, Miranda IM may be the client for you. It has the most intensive set of plugins and customizations that I have ever seen. It also can be customized to support almost every protocol out there. The interface that comes with the native program is very minimalistic, however with some skins (like the one on the left) the interface can look great. Currently it supports AIM, Facebook chat, Gadu-Gadu, IAX, ICQ, IRC, Jabber, MSN, Netsend, Tlen, Yahoo, and much more. With the added flexibility of this program, the preference menu isn’t the friendliest. The amount of options they provide you makes the program a little too complicated for the average user. There are many options that the average user most likely won't touch, but with the large amounts of options the program is somewhat overwhelming.

 

Trillian 5.1If you want something that has more design, Trillian might be the option for you. Trillian has indeed evolved over the years into something quite beautiful. It perhaps has the most eye candy out of all the IM clients that have been mentions (excluding if you can figure out how to theme Miranda IM). Although it does not seem to support as many platforms as pidgin and Miranda IM do, it still supports some pretty unique ones such as LinkedIn and Foursquare. With support for LinkedIn, Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter, the program allows you to update your status of these site through Trillian. It also supports a wide range of operating systems (Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Web). The installer does come bundled with other software such as winzip and a Trillian toolbar, in which you can opt out of (Trillian 5.1 Build 18 Free). Just remember to press “no thanks” for software you do not want. Trillian also has Ads that pop up within your conversation list telling you to upgrade to their pro version, which is kind of an annoyance also.

Digsby is another option out there for you. However, due to its WOT rating and history it is hard to recommend this client. At some point in time Digsby offered various adware/spyware in their installer in order to keep the client free of charge to its customers. With this scandal, it has seriously damaged its reputation as a company. Even though the Digsby client today seems to have not included any spyware or adware in its installer, they do still have ads within their IM windows (which you can disable in the preferences by unchecking support Digsby). Many people have also become quite skeptical of their practices and have since boycotted their program completely. With that being said, it is still a decent client. I myself have used it for a period of time. If you do decide that this program is for you, a word of advice, proceed with caution. For now there will be no review on this client due to its WOT rating.

 

Web Client

In light of recent events, Google has acquired Meebo so it is effectively shutting down on July 11th, 2012. For those who are looking for Web Clients, there are plenty of alternatives out there that provide you with the same type of support. Ebuddy is another web client that support the basic MSN, Yahoo, AIM, G-talk, Facebook, ICQ, and MySpace Protocols. Not only is Ebuddy a web client, it is also avaliable on various mobile devices such as the iPhone, Android, and other mobile devices.

Another alternative to Ebuddy is imo. imo is similar to Ebuddy in that it is both a mobile instant messanging client and a web client. However, imo supports far more protocols than Ebuddy. Along with the protocols supported by Ebuddy it also supports steam, skype, Jabber, VKontakte, and Hyves.

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Quick Selection Guide

Pidgin
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Easy to use, cleanly designed and very functional. Non-commercial, open-source software and available for multi-platform.
Nobody's going to be blown away by its styling.
http://www.pidgin.im/
2.10.3
8.96 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows, Linux, Mac OS X

Supports AIM, ICQ, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, IRC, Jabber, Gadu-Gadu, and Zephyr IM networks.

Miranda IM
4.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
The application is very extensible through plug-ins.
Native User interface is minimalist, Complicated Preferences
http://www.miranda-im.org/
0.9.50
3.11 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows 2000 to 7

Supports Gadu-Gadu and Jabber in addition to the networks supported by Trillian. Also connects to the Google Talk network with a little plug-in tweaking.

imo
4.5
 
Is a web service or web application
Log in to various different protocols with the capabilities of using those protocols on mobile devices.
https://imo.im/
Unrestricted freeware
Web Application, no installation required.

Supports MSN, Yahoo, AIM, G-talk, Facebook, ICQ, MySpace, Steam, skype, Jabber, VKontakte, and Hyves.

Trillian
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
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
http://www.trillian.im/
5.1.0.18
20.3 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000 to 7, Mac, iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Web

Supports AIM, ICQ, IRC, MSN and Yahoo networks.

Ebuddy
4
 
Is a web service or web application
Log in to various different protocols with the capabilities of using those protocols on mobile devices.
Only supports a few protocols.
http://www.ebuddy.com/
Unrestricted freeware
Web Application, no installation required.

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Tags

Instant Messenger, IM, Online IM, freeware.

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Comments

by ECL (not verified) on 4. March 2012 - 7:10  (89889)

Everyone should be told that Trillian Astra 5.0 is the now the most intrusive multi-protocol IM on the web. It has always been ad driven, but now the ads actually interrupt your IM while you are using it. Ads are constantly popping up in your IM window, between your sends and the replys, and completely ruin this once great free IM. Trillian also now installs opencandy and there is no way to prevent that since you must agree to installing it if you want to install Trillian. If you are using Trillian and haven't updated to 5.0, don't you will immediately be forced to find a new IM software. I am currently using Digsby, and though not recommended here because of WOT ratings, the latest downloads don't force installation of unwanted toolbars or other adware it was once known for. Just as with most freeware, you just have to watch the screen and un-check anything you don't want to be installed. A much nicer interface than Pidgin, with more choices for fonts and how the software interacts with the different IM environments.

by hiddensanctum on 26. April 2012 - 20:16  (92646)

Thanks for the information. We will update the review accordingly

by Mr. Wolf (not verified) on 8. February 2012 - 18:12  (88524)

It would be nice to at least list IM's such as Digsby (not Rate but report on it being negative WOT) and the others. Reviews are great and explanations as to why they are not being reviewed and only listed provides us the reader the knowledge that at least you are aware these others exist and the reasons why they are not reviewed. Lack of information even if not allowed by policy, only harms the community that is the internet.

thank you for a nice article on IM's. I would like to see it improved by at least acknowledging the other IM's out there and reasons why they were not reviewed. I used to use digsby loved it but since they were purchased by a disreputable group I've changed back to trillian. But I'm always shopping for a better tool.

by George.J on 9. January 2012 - 9:36  (86864)

FYI:
"There is no portable version of this product available."
All clients have portable versions

by skizzze on 12. January 2012 - 21:37  (87095)

I've looked for a Trillian portable app version but there doesn't seem to be an official Cerulean Studios app for it. There is however a third party download you can use, with a bit of a set up, to get it small enough to fit on a portable device and give you all the same features, maybe that's what you mean by ALL clients have a portable version? But modifying it, or other clients, to make it portable might go against the licensing agreement so in reality, there doesn't seem to be a totally legit portable version for Trillian right now. I could be wrong though and would love it if you could find an official portable version of Trillian for us and send me a link so i can update the section :)

by George.J on 9. January 2012 - 9:04  (86861)

Digsby has a clean installer : http://majorgeeks.com/Digsby_d6022.html
From majorgeeks:
"Editors note: This is the clean install. A smaller download is available that bundles malware, so be careful."
Info: http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/2310/be-careful-not-to-install-junk-softw...

I havn't tested it yet.

by xray5483 (not verified) on 30. November 2011 - 7:38  (84154)

Digsby is also a very good messenger which should be mentioned!

by Anupam on 30. November 2011 - 7:47  (84157)

Site of Digsby has an unsatisfactory WOT rating, and therefore as per our site policy, wont be reviewed :).

by Anonymouser (not verified) on 2. November 2011 - 0:29  (82546)

Does anyone know anything about the encrypted IM service X-IM? OR about the chat/IM client in Comodo's Unite VPN suite? Any suggestions, recommendations of alternative services, or feedback iw greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

by hiddensanctum on 24. April 2012 - 0:13  (92493)

If you are asking for encrypted IM services I do know that Pidgin is able to encrypt IM messages through the addition of plugins such as Pidgin-Encryption that supports 512 - 4096 bit keys. Miranda also supports encrypting IM messages through the addition of plugins that can encrypted through GPG encryption. I hope that helps.

by jmronet on 2. October 2011 - 21:35  (80772)

Jitsi "(previously SIP Communicator) is an audio/video and chat communicator that supports protocols such as SIP, XMPP/Jabber, AIM/ICQ, Windows Live, Yahoo!, Bonjour and many other useful features". http://jitsi.org/ Important for me because support multiple SIP ACCOUNTS.

by Anupam on 29. June 2011 - 16:56  (74521)

A new multi-protocol messenger.

Instantbird : http://www.instantbird.com/

by Dejan S (not verified) on 27. July 2011 - 15:49  (76310)

Nice one. It is simple and easy to use, but lacks couple of things. Most important of which: file transfer. On my job I must IM that can transfer files and thus is automatically excluded as an option. Too bad. I think it may have nice future.

by Anupam on 27. July 2011 - 16:07  (76312)

I agree. I too found that it has less features, but its in early stages, and maybe it will improve further.

by cmatthews (not verified) on 20. May 2011 - 11:19  (72393)

What about commenting on Trillian 5.0?

This link shows it offers more support for any service period... (hands-down maybe??)
www.trillian.im/guide/images/windows-accounts4.png

It does screen capture (great for techs, as I have pre-annotated jpg's from picpick for sending ADHOC when someone needs help).

by Ajax (not verified) on 23. January 2011 - 0:51  (65038)

http://imo.im has been working out great for me. Simple and light.

by oddbain (not verified) on 24. February 2011 - 17:39  (67024)

Digsby has some advertising now as well, which would ban it for a second reason apart from the WOT rating.

by Dainius (not verified) on 16. January 2011 - 19:40  (64666)

Digsby
it's EXELENT, BEST Free Instant Messaging Client AND I SUPRISED THAT EVEN NOT MENTIONED Digsby.
Once you download on your computer you will in love with him. Most of time i skype user unfortunately not skype but all other most popular Instant Messaging Clients Digsby had.

Instant Messaging:
One combined buddy list for AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, Google Talk, Jabber, and Facebook Chat Accounts.

Email:
Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL/AIM Mail, IMAP, and POP accounts

Social Networking:
Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn accounts.

by Broken Arrow (not verified) on 9. September 2011 - 15:37  (79302)

I used to love Digsby too, untill I learned that it does something in the background, I don't care good or bad, as long as I don't really know what it does.

Also, in the past, Digsby simply messed up my privacy by sending messages from an account that it wasn't suppose to. What else do you need to abort it?

It is very unfortunate for such a good IM client to end up like this!

by Anupam on 16. January 2011 - 19:52  (64667)

Digsby was featured in the review before, but not anymore. Reason being, Digsby site has got unsatisfactory WOT rating, because of which we cannot allow it in the review. Unless the WOT rating goes green, it will not be included.

by thebat1 on 20. May 2011 - 20:17  (72406)

can you explain WOT rating??

by MidnightCowboy on 21. May 2011 - 7:26  (72428)

Just expanding a bit on what Anupam correctly states below.

Because the WOT ratings are largely user generated they can be manipulated for malicious purposes. See Remah's excellent review here:

http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/best-internet-safety-check.htm)

This possibility of course is not unique to WOT and they do have procedures in place to reduce this risk and/or enable site owners to have an erroneous rating corrected.

Suffice to say that entering any red rated site is like playing Russian roulette. You may as well surf with firewall and AV switched off because the rate at which malware "evolves" in these places is guaranteed to bypass your security software at some point, or at least tempt you to allow this (human engineering) yourself.

Orange rated sites may not be so dangerous but is the risk worth it? In all my time online I've never found anything that I must have in an orange rated site for which there wasn't a safer alternative somewhere else.

A WOT plugin is available for many of the leading browsers or can be used in some others which are not fully supported via a bookmarklet. Another alternative is to replace your current search engine DuckDuckGo which enables WOT ratings to be displayed in search results.

by Anupam on 20. May 2011 - 20:44  (72408)

This is from the WOT site, at www.mywot.com :

The WOT add-on shows you which websites you can trust based on millions of users' experiences.

by wingdash (not verified) on 19. October 2010 - 3:18  (59718)

Is there any program that can see msn smilies.... other then msn messenger?

by Anupam on 19. October 2010 - 4:17  (59719)

aMSN : http://www.amsn-project.net/

The MSN clone. Its good.

by supanut on 2. October 2010 - 10:30  (58893)

I've heard about digsby being a trogen, but does any antivirus/internet security suites started detecting digsby as trogen?

by supanut on 3. October 2010 - 0:47  (58933)

Replying to my own comment
I think the only way to find out if AVG would detect it as a virus is to go and download the installation file!

by Telchyr (not verified) on 29. September 2010 - 17:35  (58653)

Do any of these offer an option to send or receive messages directly over a home network without going through an online service?

by supanut on 29. July 2010 - 7:18  (55102)

Does any of them supports Windows Live ID?
I'm looking for Windows Live Messenger alternative because MS quit support Windows XP in version 2010 beta, nor they will support Windows XP in the final release.

by Anupam on 29. July 2010 - 7:21  (55103)

All of the above support Windows Live, or MSN. If you want alternative MSN messenger, you can go for

aMSN : http://www.amsn-project.net/

Emesene : http://www.emesene.org/

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