Featured Freeware: Miranda

Miranda may lack the slick design of most instant-messaging programs, but it makes up for it by supporting the major IM clients in one fully customizable and portable package.

Miranda IM lacks the slick design of many instant-messaging programs, but makes up for it by supporting most IM clients in one fully customizable package. There's also a portable edition, designed for carrying around on a USB key. Like Pidgin or Trillian, it's easy to add your various IM accounts--including AIM, Yahoo, ICQ and MSN--and you'll have the same icons and status messages for each program. You can even manage the personal information for all your accounts from one central control panel.

Miranda IM's plain, gray instant-messaging window offers just the basics for typing and viewing messages; you won't find the text formatting options, heavy-duty emoticons, or links that a program like Yahoo Messenger offers. You will find numerous options to customize how chat or IM windows behave, including a handy option to have messages from a specific person always appear in the same location on your screen. You also can assign hot keys for a few actions, like opening the program or reading a message.

Miranda forces users to give up some of the unique features of the individual-IM programs, but it allows you to conveniently monitor and manage many of your chat and messaging programs in one place.