10 Instant Messaging Apps for Mac

The Mac has gradually become a better platform for Instant Messaging (IM) in recent years as developers realize the growing need to target OS X users. This roundup will highlight the range of different IM software available and you’ll be pleased to know that every application covered is completely free.

You’re faced with a broad choice of whether to use a multi-platform app (which works with different protocols such as MSN, AIM, Yahoo etc), or a single-platform app for just one network. Both approaches have advantages, but it comes down to individual preference and whether you have friends spread across different protocols.

Multi-Protocol IM Software

Adium

Adium

Adium

Probably the most widely known IM client, Adium is a free application for Mac OS X that can connect to AIM, MSN, Jabber, Yahoo, and more. It offers a great user interface (which is remarkably easy to customize), tabbed chat windows, encryption, file transfer, and decent integration with OS X. It’s also worth noting portable Adium, which can be run from a USB stick.

Price: Free
Developer: Open Source
Requires: OS X 10.4.0 or greater

iChat

iChat

iChat

Bundled with OS X, iChat supports Mobile Me, AIM, ICQ and XMPP protocols. In typical Apple style it offers a fantastic interface and a colossal feature set. These include video/audio chatting, screen-sharing, remote presentations, iSight effects and conversation recording.

Price: Free (Included with OS X)
Developer: Apple
Requires: Mac OS X

Proteus

Proteus

Proteus

Proteus uses the same code framework as Adium. The feature set is similar, but it offers a different user experience. You can interact across a range of protocols, send files, install extras, and benefit from Growl support.

Price: Free
Developer: Proteus Project (Open Source)
Requires: Mac OS X

Instantbird

Instantbird

Instantbird

Instantbird works across all platforms; Windows, Linux and OS X. It supports all major protocols, and uses the Mozilla rendering library to display a contact list and messages. Fairly basic, but nevertheless a worthwhile app to try out.

Price: Free
Developer: Florian Qu├Ęze and Quentin Castier
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or higher, Intel Mac

Fire

Fire

Fire

Unfortunately now discontinued, Fire is still worth noting. It supports seven popular chat protocols, and may offer an alternative to Adium if you don’t need quite the same range of features.

Price: Free
Developer: Open Source
Requires: Mac OS X 10.1 or later

Single-Protocol IM Software

MSN Messenger

MSN Messenger

MSN Messenger

MSN Messenger for the Mac supports all the basics; sending files, chatting, annoying emoticons, contact nicknames etc. It’s fairly dire when compared to iChat, and doesn’t offer a great deal more for MSN network users than a multi-protocol app such as Adium.

Price: Free
Developer: Microsoft
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later

aMSN

aMSN

aMSN

If you’d prefer an open-source flavor of MSN Messenger, aMSN is worth a look at. It works across Windows, Linux, OS X etc, and offers a range of basic features. Certainly a more customizable MSN client.

Price: Free
Developer: Open Source
Requires: Mac OS X

Yahoo Messenger

Yahoo Messenger

Yahoo Messenger

Supporting both Yahoo and Windows Live Messenger contacts, Yahoo Messenger also offers video and audio conversation. Other features to note include PC-to-phone calls, iTunes track statuses, and the ability to forward instant messages to your mobile phone.

Price: Free
Developer: Yahoo
Requires: OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or 10.5 (Leopard)

AIM for Mac

AIM for Mac

AIM for Mac

AOL cite their client as being “Real AIM, not just an AIM-compatible IM client”. This should mean faster file transfers and an all-round improved experience (providing you’re only wanting to talk to AIM contacts…) In practice, if you’re on the AIM network you’ll almost certainly be better off with iChat.

Price: Free
Developer: AOL
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4.8 and above

Skype

Skype

Skype

By popular demand, we’re adding Skype to the list! It is indeed a fantastic app for communicating, and does a great deal more than much of the traditional IM software covered. Free computer-to-computer audio, cheap international calls, instant messaging, video conferencing, file sharing – you name it.

Price: Free
Developer: Skype Limited
Requires: Mac OS X v10.3.9 Panther or later

Conclusion

My personal choice fluctuates between iChat and Adium. I’m fond of the video and audio features in iChat but I have a number of contacts who only use the MSN protocol. Whatever your specific need, I’m confident that one of the above applications will meet it perfectly!