Instantbird: one-stop-shop instant messaging client

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With the proliferation of instant messaging protocols and social media networks, wouldn’t it be great if you could communicate with all of your friends and associates from a single desktop client? This is exactly what Instantbird can do.

And while it is one of a string of similar all-in-one free communication software (e.g Pidgin, Digsby, Miranda, etc), it is notable in that it is extensible, browser style, via plugins that tweak its behavior and appearance and add a wide range of functions, such as dictionaries, language packs, and plugins to view media and documents within the Instantbird app itself.

This software is multiplatform (Windows, Mac, Linux) and open source, and offers support for a wide range of instant messaging platforms (AIM, Facebook Chat, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, Groupwise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MySpaceIM, Netsoul, QQ, Simple, Twitter, XMPP, Yahoo and Yahoo JAPAN). Support for others can also be added via plugins.

Here are some PROS and CONS:

PROS:

  • Simple interface: that supports tabbed browsing. Contacts from multiple accounts are listed in the same column,which this reviewer likes.
  • Supports many IM and chat protocols: including Facebook and Twitter
  • Is open source: so it will likely NOT undergo the kind of crapware bundling and PC resource hijacking that once plagued Digsby (for example), and it will not turn adware, as Digsby did (Trillian also is adware).
  • Has many useful plugins/extensions: and, I would wager, with many more to come,

CONS:

  • Does not provide desktop-email checking functionality: in the way that Digsby, for example can put your various webmail accounts on your desktop. However, in all honesty, this might not be much of a disadvantage.
  • Lacks some features: that others might offer, such as grouping a contact’s various IM accounts together, and others. You could argue that an IM client doesn’t necessarily need these, though.

The verdict: this is great software which does the job well. However, it has a lot of catching up to do with some well established (free) titles. For example, will it ever have the kind of support and enthusiasm that Pidgin has garnered over many years, and that has resulted in all sorts of community-built plugins and extensions?

To help this software get traction, the developers might want to provide smartphone apps as well (e.g. for iPhone, Android, etc), which is what the (ad-supported) Trillian is doing, realizing that in order to occupy space on people’s computers they need to occupy that very same space on their other devices, and in the cloud as well.

Instantbird is more akin to Pidgin in it’s focus on instant messaging rather than functioning as a full fledged desktop-based email or social networking client. As it is today is excellent and ad-free, and, I expect, will be getting much better going forward.

[Thanks go to reader Panzer for calling this software to my attention]

Version Tested: 1.0

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, Linux

Go to the program home page to download the latest version (approx 9.9 megs).