Monday, November 12, 2007

SSC #44 Chat it up!

by Jeff Smith

    Often, one of the first joys a new computer user finds is chatting with friends and family across the internet.  Some of you may have purchased your computer explicitly for this purpose.  All in all, its a great way to keep in touch with loved ones, without raising your long-distance phone bill.
    But one problem you often run into is that not everyone you want to chat with uses the same chat network.  Your sister may be on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), your brother on Windows Live Messenger (MSN).  Still further, your old collegiate chum may use Yahoo. 
    To talk to all of these people, you'd think you would need to download the chat program for each network and install them.  But there you would be mistaken. 

Enter the Multi-Messengers
    A multi-messenger is one program that connects to multiple chat networks.  There are a few of them out there, such as Trillian, Qnext, and my own personal favorite, Pidgin.
    I began my use of multi-messengers with Trillian, ( which had both a trial version and a pro version.  Trillian connects to 5 chat networks including the big 4 (AOL, MSN, YAHOO, ICQ) and adds in the granddaddy of chat networks, IRC (Internet Relay Chat).  It has a skinnable interface (meaning you can change how it looks) and has a system of plugins that lets you add extra features.
    Its a very nice program with lots of features for power users, but honestly, why pay for software when a free program is just as good or better?
    When facing a choice of upgrading to a newer version of Trillian, (and paying for it again), I took a chance and tried out Qnext. (  Qnext is free.  Qnext connects to all the same networks as Trillian, as well as its own Qnext chat network.  It also does file transfers of unlimited size which is great for when you've left something on the PC at home that you need at work.  Qnext runs on JAVA, which basically means that it works for just about any operating system that has java.  You can use it on Windows, Macintosh, or Linux, and it'll look and work the same.  For Windows users, it also lets you control your PC from just about anywhere in the world that has internet access.  Very very handy.  It is kind of big, though, because along with Qnext itself, JAVA is also loaded in your RAM at the same time, and on an older computer, this can really slow things down.
    I used Qnext for quite a while, but when I moved to using Ubuntu Linux, I learned of a program called GAIM.   GAIM started out as a Linux version of AOL's program AIM, but it just kept growing.  After being faced with some legal issues from AOL over the similarity of the project's name, they changed the name of the program to Pidgin.    
    Pidgin ( is free and open source.  It runs on both Windows and Linux, and it comes installed by default on Ubuntu Linux.
Pidgin can connect to all of the following networks: AIM, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, Groupwise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MySpaceIM, QQ, SILC, SIMPLE, Sametime, XMPP, Yahoo, and Zephyr.  Whew!  16 chat networks with one program, I think we have a winner here!
    Keep in mind that with any of these multi-messengers you have to set up accounts for each network that you wish to connect to.  Also, multi-messengers often do not have the full functionality of the individual clients for each network.  Namely, with multi-messengers, you cannot voice chat, or use Yahoo Audibles for instance... stuff like that.  What you get is basic chat functionality.  But you will be able to be visible on all of these networks using one program, which is WAY easier on your computer's hardware. 
    So if you've got friends chatting all over the place, use a multi-messenger to gather them all together in one manageable window.

Next time, I'll be talking about voice chat, VOIP internet phones, and Skype!  Talk to you later!

chat: straightshootincomputin on the Yahoo network

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