Linux users have a few different choices when it comes to instant messaging, but the feature-filled, extensible Pidgin gets our vote for best.
- Supports AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo, IRC, MSN, ICQ, Jabber and pretty much any other IM network you could want.
- Supports voice and video chat through the XMPP protocol, which includes Google Talk.
- 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.
- Pidgins 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 and tonnes of others.
- Support for over 80 languages.
Pidgin supports nearly every IM network out there and lets you fully customise its functionality with a load of third-party plugins. Whether you're looking to customise the interface, add new IM networks (like Skype IM), get notifications through your laptop's LED lights, update your Twitter status or shorten URLs. It's by far the most feature-filled client on the platform and once you've used it, it's hard to go back to anything else.
Pidgin doesn't have a tonne of downsides on Linux. If you're particularly security-conscious, you might not like that it stores its passwords in plain text, and if you're using something like Ubuntu or the GNOME Shell, it won't always integrate as well as something like Empathy as its no longer packaged with many distros. However, its plug-in system means you'll usually get that integration from a third-party developer, so it isn't necessarily a huge downside.
Empathy is the default IM client for most GNOME distributions these days and while it's a decent client, it just can't stand up to Pidgin in terms of features. Pidgin's preferences window has many more options and extensions, while Empathy can't do some simple things like combine contacts between different protocols. Still, it's good looking, has voice and video support and is a decent client if all you need is quick access to instant messaging.
Kopete is the perfect client for KDE users, providing lots of features (including a plugin library that, while smaller than Pidgin's, is respectable) and integration with other KDE apps like KMail and KAddressBook. Like Pidgin and Empathy, it supports loads of protocols including XMPP, AIM, Facebook Chat, ICQ, Skype and more.
Emesene is a client that focuses more on simplicity than sheer number of features. It supports a number of protocols, but is very lightweight, fast and easy to configure, which can't necessarily be said about programs like Pidgin or Kopete. If you're looking for something straightforward and fast, Emesene is your app.
These are far from the only IM apps out for Linux, but they're definitely the most popular, and with good reason. Between these four, you're very likely to find something that works for you — but if you have a favourite we didn't mention, be sure to let us know about it in the comments.
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.