Instant messaging has become so ubiquitous, an entire generation of internet users is probably unaware there was ever life without it. Check out the following five most popular instant messengers to to help you communicate across networks and the world.
The following instant messengers all support multiple IM protocols, more than we could reasonably list in every single entry. If you'd like a quick way to compare clients while reading over the list, check out the extensive instant messenger comparison chart at Wikipedia.
Digsby (Windows, Free)
Digsby's widespread popularity has recently taken a few lumps after they began including crapware in their installer and offering affiliate money to users who help them spread said crap. Despite these two moves, which have left quite a few users grumbling, Digsby is still a chat client with quite a lot to offer. Digsby supports multiple chat networks and allows you to merge your friends' multiple usernames into one unified entry on your contact list. When you have Digsby minimised to the system tray, you'll receive notification-style pop-up bubbles when messaged that you can reply right in. Digsby also supports email notifications for popular web-based email services through IMAP and POP3. Social networking isn't left out, either, as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn can all be viewed and updated via Digsby.
Adium (Mac, Free)
Adium is an open-source chat client for Mac OS X. Adium supports multiple chat and social networking services like AIM, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, Yahoo! Messenger, MySpace and Facebook, among others. Thanks to integration with the Mac OS, Adium can pull from your address book to populate your contacts list, use system themes, and issue system notifications including Growl notifications. Adium also has support for all kinds of plugins and the hundreds of "Xtras"—Adium's label for customisation packages. If you'd like to keep things private, Adium also supports encrypted chat via Off-The-Record Messaging and is the only client in the Hive to have native support for it—though Pidgin and Trillian can take advantage of it via plugin.
Pidgin (Windows/Linux, Free)
Pidgin is another open-source offering with a great feature set and support for popular chat networks such as AIM, ICW, Google Talk and MSN Messenger, among others. You can download a variety plugins to enhance your chat experience by keeping spam away, encrypting your conversations, connecting to social networks, and more. Pidgin doesn't have the most bells and whistles of the clients represented in this Hive, but it's open-source code, cross-platform availability, and portable version keep many people coming back to use the streamlined tool. If Pidgin is the apple of your IM eye, be sure to check out our ten must-have plug-ins to power up Pidgin.
Meebo (Web-Based, Free)
Meebo is a web-based instant messaging solution. Rather than requiring you to install a client on your computer, you handle all of your instant messaging affairs through the Meebo web site (although they do have a lightweight system tray notifier available for Windows users). Registration is optional if you're using a single service like AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, or MSN Messenger; you can simply use your credentials for that service to log into it through Meebo. If you want to build a more fleshed out profile that logs into multiple services at once, you'll need to sign up for a free Meebo account. One bonus for people behind a corporate firewall, assuming that your firewall isn't blocking the actual Meebo site, is that as long as you can use secure web sites (those with the https:// designation), you can connect to all your favourite chat services.
Trillian Astra (Windows, Basic: Free, Pro: $US25)
Trillian seemed to all but disappear from the instant messaging scene for awhile there, but it's come back in full force with the beta-release of Trillian Astra (which most were suspecting may have been vapourware). Trillian Astra has an extensive feature list, although some of the juicier features are disabled after 30 days if you don't upgrade to the Pro edition. Trillian supports the regular customers like AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, and MSN Messenger, as well as Facebook, MySpace, Skype, IRC, and Twitter. While video and audio support are notably lacking from most of the entries in the Hive, Trillian circumvents the problem of trying to place nice with 3rd party protocols by sporting its own video and chat service that is run through the Astra network.
Have a plugin for your favourite instant messenger you just have to share? Can't believe your favourite didn't make the cut? Sound off in the comments.