Free Instant Messaging (IM) Clients
Chat software for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, etc
Free Instant Messaging (IM) Clients
The free instant messaging clients, or IM software, listed on this page provide users with the ability to "chat" with each other over the Internet primarily using text messages. Some of the programs also provide an audio chat and video conferencing service. Some of the software only support its own proprietary protocol, which means that you can only chat with others using the same software, while others are able to interface with a variety of software.
Like all internet software, you should be aware that the attack surface of your computer increases if you install and use an IM client. Others may be able to send you viruses, trick you into clicking URLs with malicious software, and so on. Be sure that you take appropriate precautions, such as installing an antivirus program, firewall, and so on.
Another thing that you should know is that many (if not most) of these IM clients will automatically tell others who have you in their contact list (sometimes called "Buddies" or "Buddy List") when you're online or offline. Some software provide no way for you to control who adds you to their contact list. This means that anyone can "stalk" you (loosely speaking) and monitor you online presence by simply putting you into their list. For some Instant Messaging software, other details about you may also be exposed. I'm putting this warning here since it applies to many of the software listed in the reviews below, so go in with your eyes open.
Free Chat Clients
- Miranda (Windows)
Miranda supports multiple instant messaging protocols, including the AOL Instant Messenger (or AIM), Facebook, Gadu-Gadu, Inter-Asterisk Exchange (IAX), ICQ, IRC, Jabber, MSN, Yahoo, Netsend, Tlen, etc. It doesn't require installation and thus can be placed on portable media like USB flash drives. The program also a number of plugins available.
- Psi (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)
Psi is an free and open source IM (internet messaging) client that works through the Jabber (XMPP) IM network. Its user interface is customizable ("customisable" in US English) and it works using SSL, where possible. The program also has localised ("localized") versions for many languages.
- Adium (Mac OS X)
This is a free internet messaging application, or chat client, offers tabbed chat windows, Mac OS X address book integration, the ability to theme your chat windows, file transfer, OTR (ie, off the record) encryption, support for connecting to AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), ICQ, MobileMe, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, Facebook Chat (and other XMPP/Jabber clients), Yahoo! Messenger, Bonjour, MySpaceIM, IBM Lotus Sametime, Novell Groupwise, etc. The software is open source and is licensed under the GNU General Public License.
- Pidgin Multi-Protocol IM Client (Windows, Linux)
With Pidgin (previously called GAIM), you can chat with other IM clients utilizing other protocols, including AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk, MSN, IRC, MySpaceIM, ICQ, IRC, etc. For some of these protocols, it has even more features (such as privacy features) than the software provided by the original vendor. Besides text chat, it also allows file transfers, peer-to-peer connections, a contact list ("Buddies"), emoticons, spell checking, etc. It can be extended using plugins.
- Google Hangouts: Chat Online (Windows, Android, iPhone)
Google Hangouts lets you chat with others online via IM, make PC to PC phone calls (VOIP), do video chats, etc.
- AIM: AOL Instant Messenger (Windows, Android, iPhone)
AIM, AOL's instant messenger client, provides a customizable interface from which you can chat with others using text, audio or video. It uses its own proprietary instant messaging protocol, and you can only chat with other AIM users or people using clients that implement that protocol. It includes a "buddy list" feature, where you can add anyone with whom you want to connect with, and be informed when they are online, an "away message" (its equivalent of an email vacation message), the ability to only receive messages from others in your buddy list, log your phone calls, play free multiplayer games, etc.
- Yahoo! Messenger: Chat, Instant Messages, SMS, PC Calls (Windows)
Yahoo! Messenger is an ad-supported IM client that also has PC to PC calling facilities (via Voice over IP or VOIP), voicemail, sending of files to others, offline messaging, etc. This is a Windows program. A Mac OS X version is in the works (at the time I checked this program out for review).
- Trillian Basic (Windows, Mac OS X, iPhone, Android, Blackberry)
This IM client supports AIM, ICQ, Yahoo! Messenger and ICQ. Besides chatting with text messages, it also features audio chat, file transfers, group chats or conferencing, direct connection, proxy support, encrypted messaging, contact alerts, emoticons, etc. Versions are available for a large number of systems including Windows, Mac OS X, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, or just using your web browser from any system.
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