Cross-platform, multi-protocol instant messaging application Pidgin is very functional, but by default it's not what most people would call sexy. But like many great software projects, from Firefox to foobar2000, the looks and extra functionality are there—you just have to know where to find them. Today we're taking a look at 10 of the best Pidgin plug-ins for taking Pidgin from drab to fab.
NOTE: Unless linked elsewhere, the plug-ins listed are included with the default installation of Pidgin—it's just a matter of turning them on in Tools -> Plugins and, in some cases, configuring them.
Stay Smart Over IM with Text Replacement
It's easy to get sloppy on the grammar when you're chatting, but the Text Replacement plug-in's autocorrection macros seamlessly correct common typos on-the-fly. If you've got a particular grammar offense that's not included in Text Replacement by default, you can add your own corrections to the list. Wish you had this functionality in every program? Check out Texter (Windows), TextExpander (Mac), or Snippits (Linux).
Keep your IM sessions secure without hassle with the Pidgin-Encrypt plug-in. Back when Pidgin was still called GAIM, we showed you how easy it is to set up a secure chat session with this extension. To use Pidgin-Encrypt, download the installer from the Pidgin-Encrypt homepage, enable it in Tools -> Plugins, and then start a secure chat by clicking the padlock icon.
The Autoaccept plug-in allows you to set rules for automatically accepting file transfers from specific users. As I pointed out in the top 10 BitTorrent tools and tricks, this feature can, among other things, be especially handy for remotely startup up BitTorrent downloads.
The Guifications plugin notifies you of user status and incoming messages with a small pop-up window in the corner of your screen, similar to how Growl works with Adium on the Mac. You can customise the look, location, and what events will trigger a Guification alert so you're only distracted by a Guification pop-up when you really want to be.
If instant messaging is an extremely important part of what you do, the gSMS plug-in can keep you abreast of IMs even when you're away from your computer by sending an SMS message to your phone through Google Calendar, of all places. You'll need to download gSMS from the link above to add this plug-in to Pidgin.
Remember Where You Left Off with Enhanced History
Pidgin comes with a built-in History plug-in that automatically inserts your last conversation with the current contact in your new conversation—especially handy if you're rejoining a conversation and want to pick up where you left off (after restarting your computer, for example). If that's enough for your needs, just flip the switch on it and you're set with the default plug-in. If you want more functionality, like the ability to display anywhere from zero to 255 previous conversations or limit chat histories by how long ago they occurred, the non-default Enhanced History plug-in is for you.
This plug-in remembers the state of your Pidgin chat windows when you quit and re-opens your conversation windows just as you left them—sort of like the session saving function built into the Tab Mix Plus Firefox extension. Coupled with one of the History plug-ins above, you won't miss a beat if you have to quickly quit Pidgin or restart your computer.
If you're terrible at setting your status or remembering to change it, let the MusicTracker plug-in updates your status for you. The plug-in sets your status to whatever music you're listening to, works with tonnes of digital music players from iTunes and Winamp on Windows to Amarok and XMMS on Linux, and exactly what it displays is very customisable.
Get Updates on New Releases with Release Notification
If you're a Pidgin die-hard, you'll definitely want to enable the Release Notification plug-in, which periodically checks for updates to Pidgin and alerts you whenever one is available.
Theme Pidgin with the GTK Theme Selector or GTK+ Theme Control
Pidgin runs on both Windows and Linux using the GTK graphical environment, so theming Pidgin is as easy as using GTK's built-in theming tools. Here's how it works on Windows.
Found one? Download it and extract the contents to
C:\Program Files\Common Files\GTK\2.0\share\themes (there should already be a few themes in there to give you an idea of what the results should look like). Now you just need to fire up the Gnome Theme Selector (it should be in your Start menu) and pick the theme you just installed.
Alternately, you could install the Pidgin GTK+ Theme Control plug-in, which allows you to adjust Pidgin's look directly from Pidgin.
Got a favorite Pidgin plug-in that I left out here? Let's hear about it, and other tricks that make Pidgin your chat app of choice, in the comments.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who can love any app as long as it's extensible. His special feature Hack Attack appears weekly on Lifehacker AU.