Pidgin is a free instant-messaging client that combines all your IM accounts in one simple application. Instead of running several different IM clients that display ads and eat up memory, just use Pidgin. All your chat contacts across every network will be combined into a single buddy list, and all your conversations can be combined into a single tabbed chat window – or multiple windows, if you prefer.
Web-based chat solutions like imo.im are all the rage these days, but Pidgin integrates with your system better. Pidgin can run in your system tray without requiring a browser tab left open, flash when you receive a new message, and be quickly accessed from the taskbar.
Pidgin supports a wide range of protocols. You’ll find the classic instant-messaging networks like MSN (Windows Live Messenger), AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo, and ICQ in addition to newer networks like Facebook and Google Talk. You’ll also find support for any XMPP server (Facebook and Google Talk are actually just XMPP, too), IRC (although Pidgin doesn’t make the best IRC client, as it lacks various features), and a number of smaller networks.
You can add as many as you want – and tweak their settings – from the Accounts window.
Pidgin shows all your contacts in a single buddy list window. You can drag and drop contacts into groups, irrespective of their networks. Pidgin even includes support for contact-grouping – if you have a single person with multiple different IM handles, each perhaps on a different network, you can drag and drop each screen name into a single, grouped contact to organize your buddy list.
You can also assign aliases to your buddies – for example, you could alias Amazing_Blogger_2012 to “Jon” and see the name Jon everywhere in Pidgin’s interface.
You can quickly change your status from the drop-down box at the bottom of the window. Pidgin also includes support for creating and saving custom statuses that can be different on each account.
For example, during work hours you could be available on your work IM account and have an away message on your home account. You can easily select custom statuses from the dropdown box.
With Pidgin’s simple conversation window interface, you can have a lot of conversations in a single small window with tabs. You can move the tabs to any other location in the window, disable the tabs entirely and use a separate window for each conversation, or drag and drop tabs to create several windows. There isn’t a lot of clutter that gets in the way of your conversations, but Pidgin has a few simple menus for formatting your messages and inserting links and images.
Many other options, including viewing chat logs and sending files, are available in the menus at the top of the window. You can also drag and drop a file onto the conversation window to initiate a file transfer.
Pidgin’s preferences window gives you a good amount of control over the way Pidgin works – everything from where new conversations are created and when sounds play to Pidgin’s network settings and chat log format — Pidgin can automatically log conversations and includes a built-in log viewer.
Pidgin also supports plug-ins and includes a good amount of them. Plug-ins can do some interesting things – for example, the Psychic Mode plug-in notices when people are typing messages to you, even if they haven’t messaged you yet, and pops up a notification. You can say hi before they even send you their first message – I’ve done this before, and it is as amusing as it sounds.
Another cool plug-in is the Autoaccept plug-in, which can automatically accept file transfers from buddies you specify.
“Buddy pounces,” another included feature, are very flexible. At its simplest, you can use a buddy pounce to pop up a notification message – or automatically send a message – when a contact comes online or returns from being away. You can do a lot more with buddy pounces, too – for example, you can automatically run a program when a specific buddy messages you.
If there’s one problem with Pidgin, it’s that development has slowed in recent years. Important features like voice and video chatting have failed to materialize – Pidgin only supports Google Talk voice and video on Linux. Still, the reason development has slowed is that Pidgin does what it needs to do very well – you don’t get all the latest protocol features, but you don’t necessarily need them. If you just want to chat and send files, Pidgin does it well, without a lot of clutter and fuss.
We’ve covered a lot of Pidgin tips and tricks here in the past, including installing Pidgin themes, stopping IM spam with the Bot Sentry plug-in, encrypting your instant messages, and using Pidgin to tweet on Linux.
What do you think of Pidgin – is it your preferred IM client, or you do use another IM client?