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.
Platform: Windows Price: Free, open source Download Page
- 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.
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.