Open Source Friday Focus: Pidgin

No matter what chat program you use or how many different ones, Pidgin can make your chat experience better

Whether you use AIM, GTalk/GMail, Yahoo!, MSN or even Facebook or Twitter, chances are you are chatting, tweeting or instant messaging on a regular basis. Also if you are reading this blog, chances are pretty good that you are using more than one of the above communication methods. In fact you may be using several during the course of the day and even at the same time.

What if you could combine all of the above and more communication programs and protocols into one interface? Imagine talking to a buddy on AIM, while chatting with a friend on Facebook and being in a Yahoo chat room, all at the same time, in one interface. Wouldn't that make your life easier. Combine all of those buddy and friends lists. You can with an open source superstar, Pidgin.

Around since 1999, Pidgin is licensed under the GPL and is available in a wide range of languages. It runs on Windows and Unix/Linux. If you are looking for similar functionality for Mac, check out Adium, which is based on the same libraries.

Setting up Pidgin was a breeze. On Windows you download and double click the install file. After install, Pidgin presents you with a simple, clean interface to add different chat accounts and protocols. For the most part it is just about adding usernames and passwords.

For some protocols such as Twitter and Skype you had to download a plug in (of which there are many available on the Pidgin site). You used to need a plug in for Facebook chat, but that is no longer required.

All of your various friends on line show up in one friends list, broken down by chat programs and groups. You can click on any one of them to initiate chat. As you start chatting with more friends, the chat window adds browser like tabs, so instead of having multiple windows open, you just need to go from tab to tab within the same window.

Pidgin supports just about all of the functionality of the individual programs. You can transfer files, personalize buddy icons and sounds (for me personalizing sounds was muting them, which is one easy mouse click away), and custom smiles.

One thing I was disappointed with was a lack of video support. MSN Messenger and Yahoo Chat, as well as GTalk do a decent job with video chat, but I could not get it to work on my Windows 7 system. Looking at the help FAQ it seems that it would probably work on a Linux system though.

Pidgin is updated pretty regularly based on bug reports and feature requests. It has stayed current as communication has moved from instant messaging to chat to social networking. No reason to think it won't stay on top of scene in the years to come.

From a security perspective you can encrypt your messaging, block spam bots, use off the record conversations and encrypt with one time pads using some of the plug ins available.

If managing multiple communication accounts is something you would find useful, you should give Pidgin a try!

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