Gaim Returns Under Name Pidgin

Post by Maxime Rousseau

Before, like all noob worthy of that appellation, back in the days where I had no friends (on the internet), I used to live with one soul instant messaging client, that is MSN Messenger. Of course, from age ten and later, I got a bit better at my practices and downloaded a bit of extensions and tweaks, amongst those were the very famous Messenger Plus and several of the plugins available for it. For Messenger versions 6 & 7, I was pretty much hooked on Messenger Plus. Of course, sometimes I would go wild in one of my Linux/Open source follies, and I ended up trying several remakes of messenger clients, amongst which many browser-based clients like eBuddy and Meebo, and eventual, I stumbled upon Gaim, probably the most known cross-platform, cross-protocol, plugin-extensible messenger client out there. For me and at that time, it was wonderful for two reasons:

  1. It could support numerous logins on numerous protocols, something that I really found cool be really never used.
  2. It was open source, which back in the day was an incentive by itself. If it was open source but I didn't need it, I had it anyways, just because I thought it was cool supporting GNU and GPL and stuff.
Despite these two reasons, several features, or lack of features, made me uninstall Gaim, stuff like the raw ugliness of the buddy list, those cheesy, old-skool, Gnome-style icons, which for reason I couldn't bare, and the lack of support for the brand new funky feature on MSN Messenger 7, "personal messages", that customizable sub-nickname that could display what tune you were listening to. I thought that this new feature was essential, so I ditched it, and went back to my old habits.

Then, just under a year ago, Windows Live Messenger hit the streets, and as soon as the final version came out (I was still afraid of betas in the days), I grab myself a copy and jawdropped at the loads of new features. Simplified file sharing through sharing folders, better support of video conversations, tweakable UI that can take any color you desire, offline messaging, and all that upon first release, I was amazed of what kind of monster Microsoft had made it's chat client into. What I didn't realize is that all this beautiful Vista inspired crap was taking seriously more system resources than previous version, which I became aware of when I bought my laptop and tried torrenting @ 2 mb/s , running Songbird, Firefox, Messenger and Xfire at the same time on a meagre 512 MB of RAM. Despite this fact, I blindly continued running the official MSNM client.

It is only a few days ago that I was forced to move back to GAIM again. On Dreamincode, somebody was offering a short PHP job, and one of the only ways that I could reach the employer to be was by AIM, a protocol which I had never used and planned on using. Facing this, I had two possible solutions: download yet another IM client, or go the bright way and download the client to control them all : GAIM.

That's when I found out that Gaim had FINALLY gotten to version 2, and because of a lawsuit with AOL were forced to change their name for Pidgin.

I didn't know what to think about the name change. After all, it wasn't the first name change that I had seen (remember the relatively recent Ethereal to Wireshark story), and in pretty much all of the name changes, the product stayed pretty much the same. I hoped the Gaim team had fixed my peaves in this new version, but at the same time I didn't want to learn a new IM client and take all the hassle that comes with it.

Turns out that I am really satisfied with what Gaim has become. Version 2 still has the distinct Gaim look and feel, but major additions were added to this version. Amongst the changes, you will find:

  • Many additions to the list of support protocols, with more of those weird ones nobody seems to know, like Groupwise, Sametime, SIMPLE and XMPP.
  • Better integration with Windows. Back in the days of Gaim, KDE and Gnome were fully functional with Gaim, as in you could close the buddy list and still have a system tray icon notifying you that your IM was still active, a major feature that lacked in the Windows version. I was tired of closing my IM each time I closed the budy list, but now Pidgin fully integrates in the Windows system tray, with a clean icon that notifies you of your status and if you have received new messages or not. Like in Windows Live messenger, you can change your status and send IMs with a right-click on the tray icon. I was pretty happy to see this considering that it was the first release with a tray icon.
  • Redesigned, simpler accounts window, eliminating the clutter of having 3 windows pop open when you fire up the program. Much cleaner and more efficient that way.
  • Redesigned, tabbed preferences window, makes it easier to access settings. Although I like the new look and feel, some options have been scattered about, and more protocol specific options are available through the "Accounts" menu.
  • A confirm close prompt when attempting to close a window which contains unread messages. Useful since Pidgin works with tabbed chat windows.
  •  I'm not sure if this feature was present in other versions, but 2.0 now comes standard with an open-source spell-checking engine, which supports lots and lots of languages.
And of course, you can still expect to see those features that you know and love, that is:
  • File transfer support for every protocol that allows it.
  • Plug-in extensibility with open API, so that development people can easily code their own add-ins.
  • Buddy pounces, which lets you execute an action as soon as the latter is online. Usful for creating reminders linked with certain people.
  • Text-replacement, to correct those annoying tiny-but-imcomprehensible typos.
  • Support for just under a gazillion protocols.
  • Polygamy support, meaning that you can log in to many accounts of the same protocol at the same time.
  • Takes tons less resources than your average IM client. Hrmm hrmm, WLM.
  • Tons of pre-coded plugins for your using pleasure.
Of course, I'm not saying Pidgin is perfect, it still lacks some features that most of the default IM clients offer, like webcam support, or even voicechat support for that matter, which in today's Web 2.0 is becoming a must, but since it's open source, I'm pretty sure that code-monkeys around the globe are getting a shot at these issues as I write this. Besides, Pidgin has official been taken in as a project for the Google Summer of Code event, so these features are very likely to be release somewhere this summer.

My final word on Pidgin: if you want multi-protocol support without running 7 IM clients, and if you want a feature-rich but resource-aware client, and if you don't mind not having voice and video (Skype was made for that anyways.), go for it.

Find it here.