From the first days of public Internet, it’s been a long and winding road for chat. From Web chats that were nothing but forums, to ICQ and IRC, to MSN Messenger and Google Talk, and finally – the chat most of us use today – Facebook chat.
To me, chat’s evolution is a bit sad, really. As old as ICQ and IRC look today, they were both chat protocols and programs I really enjoyed using. Today, most of my chats take place on my mobile, and if I chat on desktop at all, it’s only Google Talk and Facebook chat – there’s simply no one to chat to anywhere else.
The really bad part of all this is that Facebook chat is horrible. In fact, it’s pretty much unusable. I hate the chat sidebar, I dislike the little chat windows, and I keep missing messages because who keeps their eyes on Facebook all the time? Not to mention the fact you have to keep the thing open all day if you want to use the chat. When it comes to Facebook, I have to disagree with my colleague Aaron who says we don’t need desktop chat clients anymore. Facebook chat can be much better utilized and enjoyed on desktop, and there are several good ways to do this.
Official Facebook Messenger [Windows]
Facebook’s official chat client was released a little over a year ago. On the time of its release, it was no more than a carbon copy of the news ticker and chat sidebar, and I can’t say it’s much more than that right now. It’s still, however, preferable to Facebook’s Web interface, with convenient windows for each chat, and tray notifications for new messages.
Facebook Messenger comes either as a window you can move around and resize, or a static sidebar you can dock to the right side of your screen. Aside from chatting, it’s also a convenient way to access your Facebook notifications, friend requests, and news ticker.
For some reason, Facebook Messenger does not officially support Windows 8, and I experienced some weird flashing on my Windows 8 machine when double clicking a contact. Things behaved normally when I opened my chat windows with just a single click. Hopefully, these bugs are limited to Windows 8, but feel free to let me know what you experienced with Facebook Messenger.
Skype [Windows, Mac]
Skype, which used to be a nice and lean voice over IP client, has become much more than that since its purchase by Microsoft. Whether you like the changes or not, one of them makes it a viable solution for those looking for a Facebook chat client. The newest versions of Skype for Windows and Mac offer Facebook integration, which adds all your Facebook friends to your Skype contact list, letting you chat and video chat with them through Skype’s interface.
To add Facebook to your Skype contacts, click the “All” dropdown menu in your Contacts tab, and choose “Facebook“. Click “Connect to Facebook“, enter your Facebook credentials, and you’re pretty much set. All your Facebook contacts will now be available through Skype, and chatting with them will feel and look exactly like chatting with Skype contacts.
Note that this feature is not available on Skype for Windows 8 (a.k.a Skype for Metro), and on Skype for Linux.
fTalk [Windows, Mac]
fTalk is a Windows client dedicated solely to Facebook, and if you miss the old days of IM clients and animated emoticons, you’re going to love the somewhat retro fTalk experience. fTalk is a desktop client, but it’s also a Facebook app, meaning you’re going to have to grant it access to your Facebook account when you first log in. What that’s done, you can use fTalk to chat with online friends, and if they also use fTalk, with offline friends as well.
The app supports pop-up and sound notification, which you can control and tweak from the preferences. You can also set notifications to show only for friends in your Close Friends list, and thus minimize the interruption these notification may cause and limit them to people you really care about.
But fTalk is more than just a chat client. You can post status updates right from the app using the “Share a new status” box at the bottom, and even browse your friends’ photo albums, and like, share, and comment on photos.
fTalk is a pretty comprehensive client, and provides a great Facebook substitute for when you don’t feel like keeping your browser open.
Any IM Client With Jabber Support
There’s a large number of IM clients that support Facebook’s protocol. Pidgin, Miranda IM, Adium, Trillian, and iMessage are only some of the available options. The process of setting up Facebook chat is very similar across these different clients, so once you know the basics, you can figure out how to add it to your favorite client.
- Locate where you can add new accounts in your client.
- For protocol, choose Jabber or XMPP.
- Enter your Facebook credentials (use username, not email).
- For domain, enter chat.facebook.com. If you need to enter a server, this is it as well.
- For Jabber ID, enter <username>@chat.facebook.com
- For port, enter 5222
This should have you covered for almost any client that supports Facebook. If you get into trouble, you may find solutions in the specific app’s help or FAQ, but if you follow these directions, everything should work out fine.
You can also check out another Windows program called FacebookMessenger, which is very similar to Facebook’s official app. Note that this program requires Java Runtime Environment 1.4.0 in order to run.
Personally, I opted for Miranda IM several years ago, and there’s no way I’d be using Facebook chat without it. No matter which solution you go for, if you use Facebook chat at all, get ready for some serious improvement in your chatting life. Beware, though, once you go desktop, you can’t go back!
Do you know of an excellent Facebook chat client I missed? Do you want to make a case for Facebook’s Web chat interface? Add your thoughts below.