Featured Freeware: Pidgin

Just because you've got 16 different chat accounts doesn't mean you've got to use 16 different chat clients. Pidgin is an open-source multiprotocol client that saves you RAM as you chat across all the major systems and many of the minor ones.

Your mother uses AOL Instant Messenger. Your spouse prefers MSN. Your office insists on Yahoo. Your ex is on MySpaceIM (shudder). What are you going to do? You could run all those chat clients at once, or you could use the multichat protocol app formerly known as Gaim: Pidgin, available for Windows, Linux, and in a portable Windows version. Like Trillian, Fire, and other third-party IM clients, this open-source messaging application lets you access multiple IM networks from one window, including Google Talk and ICQ as well as lesser-known protocols such as Jabber and Gadu-Gadu.

Pidgin's IM features are unimpeachable: emoticons, file transfers, and multiperson chats. The Buddy Pounce feature lets you automatically perform certain actions (play a sound, execute a command, open an IM window) when a contact signs on or off. Pidgin also gets lots of what John Travolta famously called "the little things" right: logging and time-stamping, for instance, are well-executed and easy to access. However, it lacks IP telephony and video conferencing, and minor bugs remain--most notably in the Help menu. Nevertheless, Pidgin is a highly recommended text-only messaging app.