Even though instant messaging has been around for a long time, it is even more popular now than it was before. There are a lot of chat clients available for Windows and a lot of different chat networks, and social media websites.
Let’s take a look at the eight most popular and free chat clients available for Windows, and see what they have to offer.
Windows Messenger doesn’t let you use other instant messaging accounts, but you can integrate with Facebook, Linked In and Myspace and chat with your friends using these services. You have to create a Windows Live account to use Messenger; you can either use an existing email address or create a new one @live.com or @hotmail.com.
One of the more interesting features of Windows Messenger is that it is much more than a client client. You can check your Live or Hotmail email, browse the MSN portal (news, weather, celebrity gossip, sports, and look up local movie times), and play games, all from Windows Messenger. If you integrate your social media accounts, you can update your status and add photos.
Windows Messenger offers themes for you to choose from to customize your client.
Google Talk is Google’s desktop chat client. You have to use a Google account and you can’t integrate other accounts like Facebook or Twitter. It offers text chats and voice calls. There is very little offered in the way of customization, but the client is very fast and lightweight.
If you’re a Googler, and only looking to chat with other Googlers, this is a great chat client.
Like Windows Messenger and Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger requires you to connect with their account. Yahoo Messenger supports instant messaging, chat rooms, photo sharing, free text messaging and video chats.
You can make free PC-to-PC calls, or calls to telephones at a low rate. You can also add other networks like Windows Live and Facebook and chat with your friends.
I believe Yahoo was one of the first chat clients to support customization. You can add plugins, download different emoticons sets, IMVironments (their interactive themes), play games, and install custom sounds and ringtones.
Digsby integrates your instant messaging, email and social media accounts. You have one buddy list for AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, Google Talk, Jabber, and can integrate your Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn accounts to chat, get notifications and friend requests. You can also check your email directly from the client.
It also offers synchronization so you don’t have to re-customize every installation on your multiple computers. One of the best things about Digsby is the amount of customization you can do. You can personalize everything about Digsby, from the buddy list theme and organization to chat windows and notifications.
Pidgin is similar to Digsby beacuse it’s a chat client to integrate multiple chat networks. It supports AIM, ICQ, Facebook, Google Talk, Jabber/XMPP, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, IRC, Novell GroupWise Messenger, Lotus Sametime, SILC, SIMPLE, MXit, MySpaceIM, and Zephyr, but with the help of plugins, can support other networks.
One of the neatest features of Pidgin is the community plugin development. The client comes with some official plugins, but you can install third-party plugins that offer flexibility and customization. The theme customization isn’t as advanced as other clients.
You can either create an ICQ account or login directly with Facebook. Either way your register, you can add your Facebook, Twitter, Google Talk, AIM, Flickr and YouTube accounts and get status updates and notifications. You can also get email notifications for Gmail and Yahoo accounts.
ICQ supports audio and video chats, as well as instant messaging. They also have apps for tablets and mobile devices and allow for multiple instances so you can always keep in touch with your friends. ICQ also supports SMS, but I wasn’t able to get that feature to work for me.
The desktop chat client supports customization like Digsby and offers a large array of themes and ways to personalize your app. Like Windows Messenger, ICQ offers single and multi-player games.
Miranda is a basic chat client that supports AIM, Facebook, Gadu-Gadu, IAX, ICQ, IRC, MSN, Netsend, Tlen, Yahoo and more. It doesn’t offer extra features like video chat or phone calls. It’s very small and lightweight, perfect for a flash drive. There are a lot of available add-ons and plugins to further customize Miranda.
If you’re looking for a simply chat client without a lot of bells and whistles, this is the one for you.
Trillian supports multiple chat networks, like AIM, MSN, ICQ and more, as well as social media accounts and email. There are also apps available for your mobile phone so you can connect with your friends from anywhere. Customization is very minimal compared to other clients.
Trillian Pro offers an ad-free experience with more customization and options for $1 per month.
It really depends what you’re looking for – whether it’s a full featured chat client with social media integration or simple instant messaging, there is a free chat client for you.
My personal favorite is Digsby because of the customization, but I also really like Windows Messenger. In fact, I hadn’t used Windows Messenger in over five years, when it was MSN Messenger. Now that I’ve tried it out again, I might actually switch it up and use it for my main chat client.