Chat clients are great for interoffice communication and sending quick messages to co-workers and friends. The only problem is once you've chosen a particular chat client--usually decided by what your friend uses--you can only communicate from within that particular client's network. In other words, Yahoo chat users can only talk to other Yahoo chat users. If you've spent any time using chat clients, you know that people use several different apps, making it difficult to talk to everyone without downloading each one.
Fortunately, clever software developers came up with chat programs that would play nice with all the major clients, so you only needed one program to talk to everyone. There are a lot of these programs available for download and most are free. But in addition to the ability to chat with people on several networks, these clients also offer features and options that make them great apps in their own right.
Here are some of my favorites for chatting with friends and co-workers across multiple chat networks. All of them require that you sign up with each service in order to chat on that network, but I think you'll find that it's worth it.
Trillian is probably my favorite for Windows PCs and lets you talk with people on AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Messenger, and IRC. In addition to being able to chat with people on all of these networks, you can also easily transfer files, use emoticons, and change the skin of the program using skins from the Cerulean Studios Web site. One drawback is that the tabbed interface for multiple-person chatting only works within the same network--so you can have several Yahoo people in one window with tabs, but if you start chatting with an AIM user, Trillian opens a new window.
Pidgin is another great chat client that lets you chat across several networks. Pidgin ups the ante by letting you chat with AIM (Oscar and TOC protocols), ICQ, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, Yahoo, IRC, Jabber, Gadu-Gadu, and Zephyr networks. Like Trillian, you also get file transfer and emoticons, but Pidgin doesn't offer skins. The tabbed interface is a little better than Trillian however, letting you have all your friends in one window regardless of which service they use.
If you're using Mac OS X, the hands-down favorite for multiple chat services is Adium X. Adium X connects with AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Jabber, Trepia, Napster, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, and several more. Adium provides file transfers and emoticons, along with a smooth interface that integrates perfectly with Mac OS X.
If you're using more than one chat client to connect with friends or co-workers, grab one of these programs. The convenience alone is worth the download.