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Instant messaging helps us connect with people online in real time. Many Linux users IM with either Pidgin (formerly Gaim) or Kopete, two applications that handle multiple IM protocols. Here are three alternatives to the top names that each focus on one of the major IM protocols, and offer some pretty cool options.
Gajim is a lightweight instant messaging application written in PyGTK and GTK+ for use with the Jabber messaging protocol. Its strength lies within its multiple options embedded within a simple and resource-light user interface.
Gajim's main interface resembles that of Pidgin, with a buddy list structured into groups. Since Google Talk runs over Jabber, you can use Gajim to sign on to it. Just add a new account, enter your Gmail username and password, then in the Server box enter "gmail.com." You can edit your personal information and add an avatar from the Edit -> Profile,Avatar menu item. Other preferences you can set include being able to minimize the application to the system tray upon close, sort contacts by status, display the avatars of your contacts in the roster, or choose a different icon set and theme. You can edit theme colors and fonts and pick from 11 different smiley sets. You can have Gajim play a sound or pop up a notification when you receive a message or on other events. Gajim can manage file transfers and notifies you of newly received Gmail messages. If this isn't enough for you, you can use the advanced configuration editor to further tweak the application. If you are sensitive about your privacy, you may assign OpenPGP keys to your contacts with just a right-click on the roster.
Gyach Enhanced, whose philosophy is to bring all of Yahoo! Messenger's features to Linux, might just be the most feature-rich instant messaging application for Linux. Too bad the project hasn't been active since 2006. Despite this little inconvenience, Gyach Enhanced provides better Yahoo! connectivity than Pidgin, offering webcam access, voice functions, and environments. The overall look of the application is a little rugged and the first impression it creates is "complicated," but once you customize the fonts and get used to it, Gyach Enhanced works well.
The main window is structured into tabs. The Chat tab notifies you of new messages you received in your Yahoo! email account and briefly displays the status of your contacts when you log in. The Buddies tab lists your contacts and can display their Yahoo! avatar, but only that; custom avatars are not shown. A pop-up message in the lower right part of the screen notifies you of actions like buddy logins or new messages. Using the button bar below the tab, you can get information about the currently selected contact, view his webcam, edit his details, send him a file, or invite him to a chat room. The My Yahoo! tab displays various types of information: a preview of your personal inbox, weather information, news headlines and RSS feeds, the Yahoo! TV Guide, your Yahoo! photo album, Calendar, Notepad, tips, and guides, all from a dropdown list above the main window. The fourth tab, Contacts, works like an address book.
The main chat window allows you to IM a contact, view his details, block the current contact, and view the contact's webcam. Gyach Enhanced even has support for Yahoo! Messenger audibles. The list of audibles that it supports is old, but at least it's there. You can choose from among 64 audibles from the button next to the one that brings up the smilies set. There are also about 20 "TUXVironments" to choose from -- preset backgrounds and styles, each uglier than the other. There's a text configuration bar in the upper part of the chat window that lets you configure text effects.
Speaking of configuring Gyach Enhanced, the Setup window allows in-depth tweaking of the user interface and application options. You can show or hide the quick access toolbar, reposition the main window tabs, and set up your webcam device. In chat rooms, you can filter users based on criteria such as age and gender.
One of the best features of Gyach Enhanced is the fact that it offers good spam protection. You can set the application options in such a way that only people you know can contact you. Furthermore, you can set it to ignore consecutive messages coming at regular intervals, duplicate chat messages, messages that begin with an URL, and so on.
If you have to chat with friends who use Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger), you might want to install KMess, which is written with the Qt toolkit and integrates perfectly within KDE. Like Gajim, KMess provides email notifications, offers file transfers between users, and some emoticon themes. The application can display pop-up messages whenever someone contacts you. If you click your avatar image on the main window, you are taken to the main configuration dialog, where you can change various settings ranging from the display picture to the default login status, and modify the font size, pick an emoticon theme or install a custom one, and choose a chat style. KMess has a plus here over Gajim, as it can display the title of the song a user is currently listening to. On the minus side, KMess doesn't have any plugins.
Many Linux users like Pidgin and Kopete not only because they allow users to connect to multiple protocols at once, but also because they are in active development. However, Gajim, Gyach Enhanced, and KMess all are worthy alternatives to those noteworthy names. Other Linux IM applications you might find interesting include Gabber, Psi, Jabbin and Fama IM (for the Jabber protocol), Mercury Messenger, aMSN and emesene (for MSN use). People using AOL can give naim a try.
Razvan T. Coloja has published more than 150 Linux and IT-related articles in print and online magazines. He is an editor for a Romanian magazine and one of the maintainers and editors of www.mylro.org, a Romanian Linux/OSS portal and community.