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




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




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 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 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 Quèze and Quentin Castier
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or higher, Intel Mac




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




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




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


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!

  • choise

    ichat and icq. not a good idea, even with chaxx.

  • http://ryanroberts.co.uk Ryan Roberts

    Adium for me. It would be nice if iChat could use MSN also because this is by far the most popular messaging system (amongst the people I know)… is this possible?

    • http://www.firelabstudio.com Aaron Bazinet

      I agree totally. It would be nice if Apple added support for all the ones Adium supports. I would rather use iChat since it has the screensharing and video chat ability. But while I’m at work, I have to use Adium since many coworkers are on MSN.

  • http://otherskies.net Kim

    Adium all the way for me, after years and years of MSN… skinned, natch, because the default skin (and icon) is pretty ugly, but… yeah. Mind you, Mac MSN is still almost a decade behind its Windows counterpart, which annoys all my friends who miss playing Solitaire Showdown with me, or don’t understand why they can’t send me handwritten messages.

  • http://kupen.net/ Trond

    What about Skype?

    • http://twitter.com/AdrianHerritt Adrian

      Yeah. Skype is essential for me. Chat, voice, video, screen sharing, file sharing, phone calls, etc. Strange it isn’t listed.

      • http://sabondsounds.co.cc SABOND

        Skype support for iChat (Messages App now) +1

  • http://www.dhohmann.de/ Dennis

    I love Adium but I’ll give iChat a try now. Never used it before. Thanks!

    • michaelmichaels

      think i’m gonna give it a try, too.
      maybe ichat supports sending of files via icq? with adium i can RECEIVE files, but SEND them :/

  • http://nickcharlton.net Nick Charlton

    Sorry to nit-pick. But should it not be a protocol, rather than a platform? As there are clients for all platforms, but not all support the same messaging protocols?

    • http://davidappleyard.net David Appleyard

      It would indeed! Good catch, thanks.

  • http://flickr.com/fiz FiZ

    So far, it’s always been adium, but I may give iChat another chance. Although I think I’ll have to look at Proteus to see what it offers over the other two.

  • http://eugeniogrigolon.com Eugenio Grigolon

    I agree with @Ryan, and I make the same question!

    @Trond, Skype rules!

  • http://www.macedonas.gr evripidis

    Yes that’s a really good question. Where is Skype ?
    Skype + Adium is my choice. Adium for multi-protocols (at 1.4 twitter support too!) + great and lots of plugins, and skype for video chat, which i use all the time.

  • http://jboxer.com/ Jake Boxer

    Adium is my favorite, but a recent update (I’m not sure which one) has a bug (I don’t think it manifests itself on all systems) that causes it to slowly increase its processor usage as time goes by. After about an hour of running on my computer, it gets to the point where it’s using 99.9% of my processor, my fans are running at full speed, and my processor is running at 80 degrees celsius (as opposed to the 50-55 it runs at normally).

    My battery indicator will say that there’s 1 hour remaining, and a couple minutes after quitting out of it, it’ll go up to 2+ hours, and temperature drops 10-20 degrees.

    I’ve found scattered reports of the same thing occurring for other people too.

    I really hope they fix this bug someday. I loved Adium, but this is really a killer bug for me.

  • Jyoseph

    Adium needs irc support bit they’ve blindly ignored requests from their users to add it. Fail.

    • Sebbe

      You know that since 1.4 adium have irc support?

  • Alex Hughes

    I use MSN Messenger, simply because it was the first one I started using (as stated it is the most popular), and never really looked back as it does the job for me.

  • http://www.uprinting.com/ UPrinting.com Printing Services

    Yeah I was wondering why Skype wasn’t in the list too. But from all those in the list, it’s Yahoo Messenger that I really use. Well maybe it’s because it’s what all my friends and colleagues use too. :) Thanks for sharing this detailed list!

  • http://blog.sapnis.com N.R.

    Are you crazy, where is skype? In europe it’s the most used program!

    • http://www.koenahn.com Koen

      I have to disagree with you. Not everywhere in Europe anyway.
      I live in the Netherlands, and very few of my friends use Skype. They’re all on MSN.

      On a more general note, as a reaction on the article:

      Skype and Adium for me.
      What bugs me, however, is that some of my MSN contacts are not visible via Adium. Some look like they’re offline, while their actual status is ‘online’. I don’t even always receive all messages from everybody, either. This is why I’ve kind of stopped using it, and the consequence is that I’m never on MSN anymore, much to all my friends’ annoyance.

  • http://www.impactmobilediscos.co.uk Chester Disco

    I use aMSN. I used to use Adium but as all my friends are on MSN I find aMSN works better for me.

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  • http://www.kieru.com Rob

    I use Adium as it supports signing in to multiple accounts on the same platform within a single window. Say for example, you have a personal AIM account and a ‘work’ account; iChat would create a separate window for each, and lord knows I hate clutter.

  • http://www.jashsayani.com Jash Sayani

    iChat does my thing….

    However, Proteus is interesting…. Willl give it a shot !

  • http://www.oliodesign.co.uk/ Richard Barrett

    Many of my friends and colleagues use MSN on their Windows computers, I’ve tried many of the options listed here but I’ve never found one that’s reliable – even Adium seems to lose connection or drop messages every 10 – 15 minutes or so. These days I stick to Skype, but it would be nice to have a reliable MSN client out there.

  • http://davidappleyard.net David Appleyard

    I can’t believe I missed Skype…

    I don’t generally think of it as an instant messaging app, as I use it primarily for voice and video.

    Nevertheless, it has been added to the list. Thanks!

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  • http://abdusfauzi.com abdusfauzi

    yahoo messenger is lagging nowadays. thats why i have to use adium. now i missed the video capability. ergh.

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  • http://www.blacksnipe.be Blacksnipe

    Maybe it’s weird, but although I’m realy anti-Microsoft, I still believe that their IM is ok. Since I know a lot of younger people (I’m only 19 atm), custom smiley’s are certainly a plus!

    For webcam-features I used to have Mercury Messenger, but nowadays I just use Skype.

  • artmania

    adium and ichat :)

  • Matthew L

    I use Adium because my friends have MSN. But if Apple add MSN support for iChat I would swap to it right away!

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  • Will

    Trillian for Mac isn’t bad. It’s a little too simple, but it’s also still in beta, however, I’ve been slowly using that a bit more than Adium. I know Adium is supposed to be the Mac version of Pidgin, but I do wish there was Pidgin on Mac.

  • doug

    Adium just died on me. Won’t boot up, authenticate, nothing. Switched to Trillian and am quite happy with it. A few UI differences than I’m used to, but, sorry Adium, it’s not me, it’s you.

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  • Serenak

    Fire was good… but it is no longer developed (though you can still download it) – some of its devs went to Proteus, which I like a lot.

    aMSN does video which until recently put it streets ahead of Microsoft’s anaemic Mac offering.

    Skype is heavily used here as an IM tool – though the latest v5 client is horrid…

    Two you missed are Nimbuzz which is pretty good and Voxox (which isn’t as pretty but does have the ability to hook in to Skype (though you still have to have Skype running because of Skype’s refusal to let anyone else use their protocols)

  • Elliot

    i don’t really know if iChat should be considered a Multi-Protocol IM Software just because its pretty limited. In my opinion most non-geeky people in the US are accustom to using AIM and haven’t really expanded their use of other protocols. I myself use MSN and Skype just because i have contacts around the world. Adium simply organizes everything, except for skype. It would be nice if they did, but until then Adium and skype are most used protocols

  • http://www.bigantsoft.com Ellen Swine

    How about BigAnt Office Messenger?

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  • Patrick

    I’ve practically used most of them. Skype is good. I will rate adium 3/5, it’s good and has all the features but sadly file-transfers is a no-go. Works for some people but doesn’t work for some and doesn’t work for me. Messenger mac for me is a no-go. Slow start ups and fairly basic interface and no support for offline messages. Kinda odd compared to Live Messenger on windows. I really wish MS would upgrade their mac messenger. Proteus crashed twice with me (is this a Lion issue ?) so for now I’m stuck on adium :(

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