Instant messaging has been popular since its invention, and the number of instant message (IM) systems are growing almost exponentially. Whether embedded in proprietary programs—usable on certain websites only—or via free-standing platforms, there is generally an IM system that suits almost everyone.
In alphabetical order, some of the most popular include:
- AOL Instant Messenger: Not only can either two individuals chat 'live,' but several people can join as well. Photo- and file-sharing, voice chat and transcript archiving is up to the individual user. The latest version of AIM includes tie-ins to social networking. Linux version: on-line (AIM Express) only.
- Digsby: A multiple-use instant messaging platform, Digsby combines IM, email, and social networking into one package. It allows multiple-platform sign-in with AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, ICQ, Google Talk, and Jabber. According to several tech reviews, however, Digsby allows advertising tracking. Linux version: not yet, but promised.
- Facebook Chat: A proprietary system, you must be signed into your Facebook page to enable Facebook Chat. By clicking the online friends tool, you can start conversing with friends instantly. The chat tool can also inform you if you have new notifications to view. Linux version: available as embedded service or via Jabber-protocol.
- Google Chat: While having a Google email or 'Gmail' address isn't necessary to use many of Google's toys, Google Chat works right from the Gmail inbox. You can communicate with anyone on your Gmail contact list and save the email trades. Be visible to anyone or sit quietly, waiting as invisible, Google Chat gives you the option. Linux version: available as embedded service or via Jabber-protocol.
- iChat: iChat enables Apple or Mac users a free, easy-to-use instant messaging system. It offers audio chats for up to ten people at once, and video conferencing or chatting for up to four people at the same time. It allows screen-sharing among contacts. The iChat AV3 version can connect directly with Google Talk and indirectly with Windows Live Messenger, Facebook Chat, and Yahoo! Messenger. Linux version: no.
- ICQ: The oldest of the instant messaging systems, the program is named after the ham operators' 'I Seek You' call, asking for a call-back from anyone or a particular call sign. Linux version: available as on-line service or via multiple 3rd party clients.
- Meebo: A relative newcomer to the IM arena, Meebo enables any of three IM systems sign-ins or use it among the Meebo chat rooms. The drawback to Meebo is that you cannot use more than one IM sign-in at a time. For that option, see Trillion, below. Linux version: not applicable, this is cloud service.
- Nimbuzz: Instant chat, texting and free calls for the mobile phone is the Nimbuzz claim to fame. The program also allows the fairly standard sending of photos, videos, and files. Linux version: as on-line service only.
- Pidgin: Another multi-IM platform program, Pidgin integrates Google Talk, Yahoo! Messenger, AIM, and others, enabling conversations with multiple contact lists from one condensed window. The usual file, photo and video sharing is still possible. Linux version: yes, this is one of the most popular IMs for Linux.
- Skype: Skype is best known for its voice or phone calling capabilities. Call another Skype user via the system for free or call a land line anywhere in the world for a fee. Written chats are still common, though users often find the one-to-one chats are more convenient via voice communication. Linux version: yes.
- Trillion: The newly revamped, multiple-platform program offers 250 new functions and massive adaptability. Sign into several IM contact lists via this program, and the fun continues to build. Other multiple-platforms may outshine this updated program in limited areas, but none can beat Trillion for the adaptability and functionality. Linux version: as on-line service only.
- Windows Live Messenger: Formerly MSN Messenger, this Microsoft messaging program allows typed chats, video and voice chats via the program without long-distance charges. Like many IM programs, you can automatically save chat transcripts for rereading or for business purposes. Photo and file sharing is common, and it allows select addition or random addition to your contact list. Linux version: directly not supported, although protocol available via various 3rd party messengers.
- Yahoo! Messenger: This instant messaging system either stands alone or allows you to chat with Yahoo! Contacts via Windows Live Messenger, above. Voice calls are tolled, however, but you can call an IM contact, a computer or a land line if you wish. Video chats and online radio can enhance the instant messaging experience. Linux version: yes.
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