6 multiclient IM apps to chat about

Using multiple chat services is overwhelming, while limiting yourself to one service just doesn't cut it any longer. These multiclient IM apps broaden and simplify.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
4 min read

A variety of multiclient instant-messaging services have cropped up that allow users to communicate with each other over the Web. Some can be downloaded onto your desktop, while others can be accessed on the Internet. In either case, they're worth trying out, if you want to enjoy a fine experience communicating with your friends.

Multiclient IM resources

Adium Adium is my favorite multiclient instant-messaging tool for a few reasons. It supports practically any IM platform around, including AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Facebook, MySpace, Google Talk (via Jabber), and more. It even has a plug-in for Skype.

You'll rarely have any trouble communicating with friends in the service. But its most redeeming quality is that it's open source. So, if you want to modify the code to fit your own IM desires, that's possible. And those in the open-source community are constantly improving the product, whose updates typically install with ease.

When you download Adium (it's available for Mac OS X), you'll have the option of choosing your IM service. By default, Adium takes on the same design as Mac OS X. But with the help of some plug-ins from Adium's site, called "Xtras," you can customize it as you see fit. Those add-ons include emoticons, dock icons, scripts, and more. I could go on about Adium, but I think that you get the point: if you're a Mac OS X user, it's worth trying out.

Adium takes on the look of Mac OS X by default. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Digsby Digsby is a multifaceted tool that lets you communicate with friends over instant messaging, e-mail, or social networks. I recently took a look at its social-networking capabilities. After having the opportunity to use its IM services, I was just as impressed.

After installing Digsby on my Windows PC (Mac and Linux versions are reportedly on the way), I was able to log in to my accounts on AIM, Yahoo Mail, Facebook, and others. Digsby's app is designed well, with a more attractive interface than Adium's default skin. Digsby also gives you the option of sending an SMS text message from the application. Overall, I liked Digsby.

Digsby lets you chat with anyone at any time. Digsby

eBuddy eBuddy is a Web-based multiclient instant-messaging app through which you can connect to AIM, Yahoo IM, MSN, Facebook, ICQ, and MySpace. Although it provides a bunch of options, eBuddy doesn't quite stand up to the competition. It's not as responsive as some of the other apps in this roundup, and I was unimpressed by its design. That said, I did like that I could view my Facebook friends' profiles by clicking on a link in the client. I also liked that the app opens in a separate window--I find it more convenient than switching to a tab. Plus, it's available for Android-based phones, as well as the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

eBuddy isn't the best-looking service, but it still works well. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Meebo Like eBuddy, Meebo is a Web-based instant-messaging tool that lets you communicate with friends on AIM, MySpace, Yahoo, and MSN. You can also chat with Facebook and Google Talk friends.

When you go to the Meebo home page, you have the option of inputting your credentials for any of those services. The instant messaging on Meebo is outstanding. It's the same interface for all the sites, but you can get buddies' contact information, see their Facebook status, and even check out their entire Facebook profile by clicking on the appropriate link, which opens the profile in another tab. Meebo is one of the more popular multiclient IM tools on the Web for good reason--it's simple, responsive, and boasts support for a variety of clients. Even better, you can use it on your iPhone.

Meebo lets you chat with your Facebook friends. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Pidgin Similar to Adium, Pidgin is an open-source IM client that allows you to modify it as you wish. If you don't want to do that, you'll still be satisfied with the software.

Once installed, Pidgin gives you the option of signing into your various IM accounts. You can chat with friends on AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, MySpace, and others at the same time. It's not as good-looking as some of its competitors, but it's designed more for the power user who wants to be able to chat with as many people at a time as possible. Pidgin is ideally suited for Windows machines, so that may be a problem for some. If you want to use an open-source instant-messaging platform on a Mac, Adium is your best bet.

Pidgin asks you to create accounts when you first start it up. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Trillian Trillian is a desktop IM client that supports instant messaging on AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Messenger, and Internet Relay Chat. Unfortunately, it's available only to Windows users at this time. The company is promising Mac and iPhone support in its follow-up version of the software, called Trillian Astra.

Overall, I was really impressed by Trillian. It supports the standard features like group chat, audio chat, and the option to view profiles. But having the ability to change skins was quite appealing. I was able to customize the experience to match my tastes. From dark to bright, there's at least one skin for everyone. Trillian is, quite simply, the most beautiful multiclient IM service in this roundup. If you want more functionality (such as bringing in your Google Talk contacts), you can also buy Trillian Pro, which costs $25.

Trillian Astra is coming to Trillian. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

My top 3

1. Adium: Customization is king.

2. Trillian: Beauty matters, and Trillian delivers.

3. Meebo: The best Web-based multiclient IM app.