The Best Instant Messaging Application For Windows

There are some great instant messaging apps out on Windows, but we think it's hard to beat Pidgin's low footprint, support for tons of different protocols, plugin-based architecture, and open source code.

Pidgin

Platform: Windows Price: Free, open source Download Page

Features:

  • Supports AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo, IRC, MSN, ICQ, Jabber, and pretty much any other IM network you could want.
  • Has most features you've come to expect from chat clients, like file transfers, away messages, typing notifications, tabbed chats, chat logs and so on.
  • Built-in email notifications.
  • Pidgin supports third-party plugins, which means that any features you can't get out of the box, you can probably get with an add-on, like other IM networks, themes, notification types, integration with other services like Twitter or Last.fm, and tons of others.
  • Support for over 80 languages.
  • Its open source codebase means no ads or crapware, and since it's such a popular program, it updates fairly often.

Where it Excels

Pidgin is lightweight, supports nearly every IM network under the sun, and lets you add anything that's missing with third-party plugins. Whether you're looking to customise the interface, add new IM networks (like Skype IM or Steam IM), get notifications through your laptop's LED lights, update your Twitter status, shorten URLs, or do tons of other things. It isn't quite as pretty as something like Adium, but its high configurability is pretty fantastic.

Where It Needs Work

Apart from its not-always-beautiful looks (which are a result of its GTK interface that will never go away), we're still waiting on voice and video chat for Windows. For now, we're stuck using something like Skype or Google Chat to make voice and video calls, which is OK, but it'd be really nice to have these integrated into the main client.

The Competition

There's a lot of competition out there for Pidign on Windows, and some of you may disagree with our decision to choose it as the best. Digsby, for example, has some pretty neat social networking integration, as well as the ability to use Adium's beautiful themes (which make it a bit better looking than Pidgin). However, while Digsby isn't quite as evil as it used to be, its proprietary nature make it more than a little annoying. It has a ton of ad-based features that spam both you and your contacts, and while you can toggle them off in the preferences, you have to scour it pretty hard to find them all, which is a pain and leaves your friends asking you "why are you sending me ads?". Furthermore, Pidgin's open source nature also allows for a really awesome plugin system that Digsby just doesn't have, and it's also more lightweight, two features that really win us over.

There are other options as well, like the cross-platform Trillian and the customisable Miranda, but they still don't measure up to Pidgin in our eyes. If you don't like Pidgin, you have quite a few other options available, but if you're looking for our favourite, Pidgin's the first client we'd recommend any day of the week.

Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories. This week, we're focusing on IM clients.


Comments

    I stopped using desktop IM clients a while back when Facebook chat started improving. It is so much simpler, having a website handle everything for you. Then for things like file sharing, it's just a simple Dropbox link, or video chat through Skype.

    Sure it isn't quite as "poweruser" friendly, and you can't manage your entire social presence from the one application, but it's so simple - I don't want it to. Plus, there are much better ways of say, updating Twitter or getting email alerts.

    What do you think? Are the desktop IM clients' days numbered?

      Not numbered, but the web versions do have a range of advantages for people who swap between different computers/phones during the day.

      My personal choice is finch at the moment, the command-line version of pidgin. Smaller footprint, and ssh+screen+finch lets me jump into my home desktop from any computer without losing my running session.

      cons:
      -Finch doesn't work that well with mobile phones. Most IM services do support multiple sign-in now, so you can get away with using any native clients.
      -You need either a computer permanently online or a shell somewhere. A VPS works just fine.

      I'd be quite interested in somebody writing a web interface for libpurple that ran in conjunction with finch/pidgin. All the advantages of a web-based and desktop messenger running off the same data files.

    What's included in a 'footprint' these days? I actually moved away from Pidgin due to it's footprint. In my case, the footprint was it's download size (10mb-ish) and it's memory usage (according to windows task manager) of 20-30mb. Compared to Miranda which I've ended up with, whose download size is currently 3mb, and memory usage (at time of writing) at 3.5mb.

    Also in my experience, Miranda gets updates more regularly than Pidgin and I haven't been left wanting for any features that I may have left behind in Pidgin.

    Of course YMMV, but from the article I think you could substitute 'Pidgin' for 'Miranda' and it would still read correct.

    Digsby still sucks - It randomly silently spams your friends via IM, telling them that you've found a great new IM client called Digsby and that they should download it.
    The first I knew about it was when I got a pissed off phone call from my Auntie, who had gone ahead and installed it and it had "taken over her computer".
    So now, Digsby still evil, which is a shame because it's the most Adium-like Instant messenger for Windows.

    Pidgin sucks for other reasons - It's ugly, it unnecessarily steals focus, window docking doesn't work properly in Win 7 (Starter at least), and it seems to have a hard time auto-reconnecting when you have a flakey connection.
    Trillian is now the best option, even though it isn't open source it has the cool federated history, it does all the protocols I need and it has useful non intrusive message notifications.

      I use Digsby daily, and I'm not one of their die-hard fans, but I've never had it randomly spam anyone. Although it did try spam my social networks when I first added them, I haven't seen anything like that since.
      It is a little bloated and now has ads on every conversation window, but they're minor to me at the moment.

    I'll use pidgin when it works with photo and youtube sharing in the same ways that Windows Live Messenger does. My friend who uses pidgin tries to send me a photo and instead of it coming up next to the convo, I view it and then close it without saving it at any point.. I now have to download the photo, view it on my PC and then delete it from god knows where it saved too.

    WLM + aPatch > Pidgin for anyone who regularly shares photos with friends / family

    I should just point out that pidgin also has a linux build. I'm probably only a medium level user of a IM client, because i dont use it to share photos or files, i just found it too slow (now i just use the public folder in dropbox and paste a link - works great).
    To the user above who complained about it being finicky on low-quality networks, you might want to check for alternatives to the plugins you are using, some are more reliable than others.

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