Even when we’re not with our colleagues, friends and family we like to stay in touch. While many services have their own specific clients for online chat, finding a single tool that allows you to stay in touch across multiple channels can be really handy.
For a while now, Adium (adium.im) has been the ‘go to’ chat client for Mac users. As well as supporting iChat/AIM it can handle just about every chat protocol you can think of.
Once the app is installed, you need to add each of the chat accounts you plan to use. It supports most chat protocols except Apple’s iMessage. Even the venerable ICQ is covered.
Each chat you are involved in works in its own window. So, if you’re chatting to one friend via Facebook and another through MSN you can see the two conversations in separate windows. However, all your contacts and their online status are in one list.
The user interface is clear, although we found the default fonts and colours a little hard to read. They can be easily changed to suit your preferences. We also found that some emoticons didn’t display correctly, although default smilies created with the colon and parentheses keys worked. It can be used to send images as well as text messages. Adium is a very solid and mature application and can be customised to suit your own colour and font preferences.
Apple’s Messages is an attractive and functional application that delivers chat support for a limited number of services. However, as a desktop complement for the iOS iMessage system, it excels.
Every recent Mac ships with Messages. And we suspect that most people use it solely for its iMessage support.
However, you can also connect your Gmail, Yahoo! and AIM accounts and create a single point for accessing all those services.
Messages’ integration with the rest of the Apple ecosystem is what makes it really stand out. From an iMessage-based chat it’s just one button press to launch into FaceTime.
We assume that FaceTime voice integration will also come when iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks are released, making it a full service communications tool.
What we would like to see is expanded protocol support. In particular, the lack of Facebook chat support is a bit of a deal-breaker for us and compels us to use other clients. However, your needs might be different.
We’d not used Instantbird (instantbird.com) before, but it’s quickly become our preferred chat client. It supports over 20 different chat systems and looks clean and modern. If it supported iMessage it would be close to perfect. Installation, like most Mac apps, was a simple drag and drop to the Applications folder after downloading the program. We added accounts for a couple of services. We did have some problems when adding a Facebook chat account, but that was resolved by adding an onscreen alias even though it was not mandatory.
By default, the colours and fonts used by Instantbird were clear and easy to read. Separate chats were displayed in a single window with a new tab for each conversation. This keeps desktop clutter to a minimum. The user interface is modern and easy to use and protocol support is broad. With a couple of tweaks, it could be a brilliant application.