Among the fastest growing social networks today, you’ll find plenty of chat apps. In fact, it could be argued that instant messaging (IM) is the way forward for social networks, which is why Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion and Twitter opened up its Direct Messages.
However, only some of these chat services have a desktop client, while others only give you web-based versions. There is some truth to the death of the desktop client. 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 computer.
1. Franz (Windows, Mac, Linux)
All-in-one messaging app for WhatsApp, Slack, Skype, and many more.
Franz is an all-in-one, universal messaging app, which supports 65 services. This includes Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, Telegram, WeChat, Skype, HipChat, Discord, and several others. Not all of them are chat-oriented either, giving you things you need like Google Calendar or Inbox by Gmail. And 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.
The free version of Franz is good enough for most users, but if you want to use a VPN with Franz, then you’ll have to pay for the pro version.
2. Manageyum (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Add any chat app you want.
Like Franz, Manageyum puts all your messengers into one window. Like Franz, Manageyum also lets you use multiple accounts simultaneously. But unlike Franz, Manageyum lets you use any alternate messenger service with it.
Yes, the pre-loaded chat and messenger services will work better. But if you use something that isn’t supported, insert a link and Manageyum will turn it into a simple app like a browser tab. After you set it up the first time, Manageyum will remember preferences for that app.
While it’s not a deal-breaker, this is a feature you might miss on Franz, so it’s good to know that there’s an alternative.
3. Caprine (Mac)
Gorgeous Facebook Messenger app with privacy controls.
Caprine is a beautiful and lightweight app for Mac users who want to chat on Facebook Messenger. It only supports that service and no other, but it adds more to Messenger.
The app’s focus on design makes it seem more synchronous with how the rest of Mac apps feels. It has a responsive design that adjusts to window size, multiple themes, and it will give you easy notifications too.
Caprine also lets you control your privacy on Messenger by not showing the recipient when you are typing or whether you have seen their messages.
Apart from Caprine, there are a few other unofficial Messenger apps that you might want to check out.
Download: Caprine for Mac (Free)
4. YakYak (Windows, Mac, Linux)
The Hangouts desktop client that Google should have made.
A lot of us who grew up using Google Talk are amazed at how Google dropped the ball with Hangouts. Google redeemed itself a little with the new Hangouts web app, but it’s still not perfect. Leave it to a third party developer to figure that out.
YakYak is a clean and simple version of Google Hangouts that works as a standalone client. It looks and feels a little like WhatsApp Web, without making you miss any feature. You can take conversations off the record, you can add contacts; everything just works.
YakYak also adds new features, like marking any contact as a favorite so they will be pinned to the top of the contacts list. You can also change color themes, or opt for a night mode.
Overall, it feels like the desktop client for Hangouts that Google should have made, but never did.
5. Station (Windows, Mac)
A chat client made for the workplace.
When you are ready to work, is your browser window filled with tabs for Gmail, Google Drive, Slack, and more? Then you should check out Station, the browser and chat app made for the workplace.
Each of the “apps” show up in a vertical bar on the left. Click any, and you can see all the tabs for that app. Click any to open it in a focussed, no-tab window. It’s essentially tab management in a browser, but using it for a while makes you realize how cool it is.
Station supports a wide variety of apps, both for productivity and messaging, so you will probably find any service you use. There’s also a handy one-click button to stop all notifications when you need to focus to get more work done.
Station might be overkill as a universal chat app alone. But if you’re looking for something more than just universal chat, try it out.
6. All In One Messenger (Windows, Mac, Linux, ChromeOS)
A Chrome-based all-in-one chat messenger app.
You can open a separate Chrome window with the web app for every messenger you use. Or you can do it with All In One Messenger, a Chrome-based app dedicated to bringing chat apps together.
The only major difference between All In One and a Chrome window is that you get to sign into multiple accounts of a messenger. Other than that, the only thing that changes is the look and feel. That said, All In One looks quite inviting with its big, bold tabs on top.
It’s also the only such client that works as a useful Chrome app (check out these other unusually useful Chrome apps), which means you can install it on any computer, even a Chromebook. Of course, you’ll need to have installed Google Chrome beforehand.
Download: All In One Messenger for 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 using third-party plugins.
Here’s a brief list of protocols that Pidgin supports:
- Google Talk
Pidgin is especially great at handling old-school web IMs like IRC or ICQ, and anything which uses the XMPP protocol.
Note: Pidgin officially has apps for Windows and Linux, but Mac users can get a Pidgin port called Adium and use it in the same way.
Protect Your Privacy When You Chat Online
Hopefully, you use one of these WhatsApp alternatives that protect your privacy. But not all messaging apps are that particular about your privacy. In fact Facebook Messenger is infamous for its privacy violations.
The bottom line is, when you are using any of these chat clients, or the official messaging service itself, you are putting your personal data online. And that comes with its own risks. Before you dive in, read our guide to protecting your online privacy and security.