Among the fastest growing social networks today, you’ll find more than one chat app. In fact, it could be argued that instant messaging (IM) is the way forward for social networks, which is why you have Facebook buying WhatsApp for $19 billion and Twitter opening up its Direct Messages.
But third-party developers aren’t giving up yet. From all-in-one messaging apps to dedicated chat clients that do a better job than the official web versions, here are some amazing chat apps you should be using on your Windows, Mac, or Linux computers.
Franz (Windows, Mac, Linux | Free)
All-In-One Messaging App for WhatsApp, Slack, Skype, and Many More
If I could pick only one chat app to install on my computer, it would be Franz. It’s pretty new, but it’s an absolute must-have if you connect with friends via IM. Franz is an all-in-one or universal messaging app, which supports a wide number of services: Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, Telegram, WeChat, Skype, HipChat, Google Hangouts, ChatWork, GroupMe, Grape, Gitter, Discord, and Steam Chat. The developers say they are busy adding more services!
In essence, Franz is a Chromium-based desktop wrapper for the web versions of all these apps, but it also offers a few additional benefits. For starters, you can sign into multiple accounts of Facebook Messenger without having to constantly log in and out.
You also get native notification support compliant with your operating system. There’s a helpful badge on the icon announcing the number of unread messages. And a quick check shows that Franz takes up less battery and CPU usage than running the same tabs in the Google Chrome browser—not surprising, given Chrome’s troubles with battery and power.
More than anything, Franz is simply convenient. With all your chat powered by one app, you can safely close it when you want some distraction-free work time, knowing you won’t be disturbed.
Whatsie (Windows, Mac, Linux | Free)
A Fantastic Free WhatsApp Client for Desktops
Last year, WhatsApp finally launched WhatsApp Web to chat on your computer. But again, this is a browser-only solution. Thankfully, developer Aluxian created his own version of a desktop app that works on all three operating systems and brings more features than the Web version.
Whatsie is completely free and easy to set up. In fact, it’s just like setting up WhatsApp Web, where you scan the QR code to link your phone and your computer. Once you’re synced up, it’s time to start typing as usual.
Whatsie uses your operating system’s default notifications system, so it looks more complementary than the web app. It also offers several different themes to skin your WhatsApp—I especially liked the Dark mode. And in what is sure to be a hit feature, Whatsie has a built-in spellcheck which will throw that familiar squiggly red underline for misspelt words.
We’ve already seen some cool WhatsApp clients for Mac OS X and Franz supports it too, but if WhatsApp is all you use for chatting, then Whatsie is your new best friend.
Common Hangouts (Google Chrome | Free)
The Absolute Best Way to Use Google’s Hangouts
A lot of us who grew up on Google Talk are amazed at how Google dropped the ball and made the monstrosity that is Hangouts today. It redeemed itself a bit with the all new Hangouts web app, but it’s still not perfect. Leave it to a third party developer to figure that out.
Common Hangouts is what Google Hangouts always should have been. Use it for a few minutes and it’s obvious that this is the absolute best version of the chat app. It’s clean, it’s beautifully designed, and it uses space wisely to put the focus on your chats. The left sidebar has all your contacts, and in a series of full-length panels on the right, you’ll see your latest IMs.
Plus, Common Hangouts does all this without making you miss any feature. Video calls work just fine, you can take conversations off the record, you can add a contact—everything just works, as Justin says in his detailed review of Common Hangouts. Yeah, it isn’t a standalone app, but hey, with Chrome, you can make any site in an app.
Download: Common Hangouts for Google Chrome (Free)
For Everything Else, There’s Pidgin
Not every must-have software has to be newly made. Pidgin has been around for years, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome today. While Franz concentrates on the new wave of chat apps, Pidgin handles almost every other IM service you can think of.
Given its many years and open-source nature, Pidgin supports a wide variety of chat networks, along with third-party plugins to enable many more. For example, there isn’t an official WhatsApp plugin, but you can get WhatsApp on Pidgin with third-party plugins. Here’s a brief list of what Pidgin supports:
- Google Talk
Pidgin is especially great at handling old-Web IMs like IRC or ICQ, and anything which uses the XMPP protocol. Pidgin officially has apps for Windows and Linux, but Mac users can get a Pidgin port called Adium and use it the same way.
Download: Adium for Mac (Free)
Web vs. Desktop
So readers, are you with Aaron when he says desktop chat clients are no longer needed, or do you still feel that a good desktop IM app can make a big difference in your productivity? I love the convenience of having all my chats in one window. But I do see why people might be using their web browser for all their chat needs. Which side are you on in the web vs. desktop battle?