I’ve done my fair share of chatting over the years. In fact, I was addicted to chatting before it became “cool” Back in the day, when Windows 95 had just appeared, and I was having trouble figuring out that damn Start button, nobody was online except rich people (who could afford to use dial-up modems for hours on end), and university students, who had access to broadband.
My chatting days started on irc (Internet Relay Chat). I don’t think it’s as popular as it used to be. The channels I used to visit certainly aren’t as popular anymore as they used to be. Even before I left university, ICQ started to become popular, and afterwards, MSN Messenger. And after that, other programs, like AIM, and Yahoo Messenger. And Google Talk.
There’s a problem here, of course. Most of my Belgian friends are on MSN. My family’s on Google Talk, because of my brother, who loves it, and maintains my parent’s computers (they don’t ask me, I’d just slap Linux on their PCs). Some of my LJ contacts are on AIM. None of these programs have an official Linux client, but even in Windows, this is a problem. I’ve seen many people having three IM-clients running at the same time, just to keep track of all their contacts.
Enter: multi-protocol messenging clients. They can connect to all the chat-networks I mentioned before (and usually, a lot more), thus solving the problem. You can even group contacts together, for people who have more than one account. It’s all very handy.
The one I used in Windows was Trillian. It worked just fine, and it was – and is – free, at least up to a point. The Basic version comes without any cost, but you have to pay for the Pro version. Needless to say, I downloaded the Pro, then cracked it… . There were problems too. Trillian 3 suffered from the Vista-syndrome long before Vista came along: it was bigger, slower and clumsier than the previous version. This was around the time I switched to Linux anyway, so I ditched it, in favour of Pidgin.
Which means I finally came to the point Pidgin is a multi-protocol Messaging Client, just like Trillian (the latest version supports up to SIXTEEN different protocols), but it’s free. Unlike Trillian, but like Firefox, it’s available on both Windows and Linux.
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend Pidgin as much as Firefox, especially for Windows users who love their MSN Messenger. Personally, I think Messenger is full of crap like nudges, and moving emoticons, and games, and everything silly, and the Pidgin developers seem to share my feelings, so they left that stuff out. Except the moving stuff: you can receive them, but not save or send them. They also left out offline messaging.
There’s another, bigger problem though: no webcam-support, and apparently, no plans to ever include webcam support. Even to me, this seems like something a messaging client should have. The problem here is of course the lack of proper webcam drivers in Linux. This means that the crappy webcam you got with your cereal won’t work, but still…if you buy carefully, you can easily get a better cam working in Linux, so why not include webcam chat?
Pidgin development is slow-moving (the focus seems to be on maintenance, not on adding new features), which means other clients have started to pop up, like the excellent Emesene, which looks and feels just like the official MSN client, and definitely wants to include audio and video chat in one of their next releases. Of course, you lose all the advantages of a multi-protocol client. Nothing’s perfect.
Still, if you have a lot of contacts scattered over many networks, and you don’t care about the frills of MSN Messenger, or the bloat of Yahoo, ICQ and AIM, give Pidgin a try. It does the job, and it does it while looking pretty.