Ding! Ding! Ding ding ding! We’ve come a long way since the early days of America Online, a time when instant messaging was but a one-ISP fad and that unnatural blast of noise from your sound card (if you were lucky enough to have one) was the run-to-the-living-room signal that a new message awaited.
Now that we’re all chained to our various instant messaging networks, what’s the best way to access them? Well, how's about a deathmatch? We've thrown four of the top instant messaging clients into a no-holds-barred battle for supremacy: To the victor belong the spoils, or a happy home on your desktop and laptop PC forevermore.
The Digsby team has put out a new version of its multiprotocol instant messaging and social networking app, noting a handful of "major improvements." These include:
New Email/Social Network Panels
New Auto-Update System
According to Digsby's developers, the latest release features a makeover to the email and social network panels on the buddy list, making it easier than ever to manage accounts.
The other big change involves the auto-update system, which Digsby likens to Google Chrome. Prior to this release, updates were annoyingly downloaded before logging in, so if you wanted to sign-in real quick to send an important IM before heading out the door, you would often have to sit back and wait. With the latest release, Digsby is much more courteous and downloads updates after logging in, which are then applied at the next restart.
Not a thing wrong with making some money. Right? Well, that's the great contradiction in both the open-source and freeware worlds. Everyone loves software that performs a unique task (or replicates the unique tasks of paid-for applications), but the second an aspiring developer attempts to tack a moneymaking scheme to an otherwise free program, said developer might as well call up the fire department and Internet police--there are going to be torches, pitchforks, and angry blog posts knocking on the front door within short order.
It's almost too easy to blame the developer. And for good reason: There's a definitive lack of add-ons, advertisements, and other such cash-generating schemes that actually deliver a valuable service to the user. But, to be fair, users share the fault--if you don't want to read the instructions, you only have yourself to blame for the various toolbars that have been installed on your machine as a result of your super-fast clicking on the "next" button in any given app's installer.
So what do we do? Is it fair of the open-source and freeware world to scorn any developer that tries to make a quick buck? Is it similarly fair for developers to pack their software to the gills with crapware in the hopes that you forget to uncheck a box or two whilst installing? How do we merge the capitalistic ideals of making money with the altruistic aspirations of consumer freeware and open-source development?
I've been a stalwart user of TweetDeck for all my 140-character messaging needs for quite some time now. But that's the problem with having a favorite freeware program: Your devotion to a tried-and-true application could be preventing you from reaching out and discovering a program that does an even better job. I mean, TweetDeck--awesome as can be--sure isn't perfect. There are a few features I wish I could get my hands on and, conversely, a few features I wish I could excise from the program with one almighty keystroke.
So all this got me thinking. I cover a lot of apps in these weekly Freeware Files roundups. But apps typically go through a number of changes throughout their lifespans. For better or worse, not every app is always going to look like it does when it's been profiled in a Freeware Files column. And with new programs entering the freeware fray at all times, what's a great recommendation one day might turn out to be an average or dull recommendation the next.
So, instead of just profiling five different Twitter apps this week, I'm going to make this more of a challenge. TweetDeck has been a top Twitter application on the market for some time now. What has it been up to since we last took a look at the software. More importantly, what other apps have risen the occasion to challenge--or topple--this killer program?
We have a love-hate relationship with Digsby. On one hand, we love the multi-protocol instant messaging app, which not only covers all the major IM clients, but also keeps us connected to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking services. But we hate the stockpile of bloatware Digsby stuffs into its installer. On top of it all, Digsby had come under fire recently for its hidden distributed computing research module, which hijacks CPU cycles to make the company money.
You spoke, and Digsby listened. In a blog post on Thursday, the company announced a new version of Digsby sporting a new "user-friendly installer." Gone are all the adware solicitations replaced by a single option to install the Digsby Ask Toolbar, though it does make a last ditch attempt to toss in couple of search options after it's finished installing. And this time around, Digsby is being upfront about its research module, both during the installation process and with a new tab to the preferences window.
"Blasting ads all over our product is the last thing we want to do so we will keep experimenting with unique, non-intrusive models like these," Digsby stated.
As some of you may or may not know, Digsby has recently come under fire for hijacking your CPU cycles while you’re away from your machine in the interest of making a quick buck. In reality, Digsby is as free as the air you’re breathing, and you can reclaim the handy IM program in a matter of minutes.
So here are the facts: Digsby’s installer comes with a pile of bloatware (Weatherbug, Yahoo Toolbar, etc.) that’s all very avoidable. Instead of hiding checkboxes somewhere in the installer, you’re simply met with “Accept” and “Decline” buttons. After a few windows filled with offers, the installer shows you exactly what you’re putting on your PC. If you decline everything, only Digsby will be installed.
It also comes with a research module that will use your computer’s recourses while you’re away. According to Digsby’s blog, “The module turns on after your computer has been completely idle for 5 minutes (no mouse or keyboard movement). It then turns off the instant you move your mouse or the press a key on the keyboard. We did this so it would have absolutely no effect on your computer’s performance and only uses processing power while your computer is not being used.”
This is where they’ve come under fire – but fear not. This, just like the bloatware, is extremely avoidable. By simply navigating to your menu and going to Help > Support Digsby, there’s a button near the bottom that allows you to disable this (pictured above).
So if you’re interested in keeping your favorite all-in-one IM program and not hopping on the hate bandagon, just do this. The Internet is angry enough as is.
Ding! If you're still using AOL's default instant messenger (or Google Talk, or Yahoo! Messenger, or...), then you're missing out on a wide range of alternative features--more than you perhaps though possible in a common messaging application. Or, worse, you're trying to converse with your friends across the various networks by using three or more individual applications at once. While this might have been the only way to bridge the gap between these services before, you can plead ignorance no longer. Start the uninstaller--and this article--and by the time you're finished with both, you'll never go back to the antiquated world of official messaging applications. Third-party is where the real party's at.
What can you expect to find in these open-source and freeware apps? For starters, an interface that combines a number of common messaging networks into a single program. In some cases, you can even lump your friends' various online names across the separate chat networks into a single, unifying alias--click a drop-down box to specify which network you want to reach them on. Beyond that, these programs can bring a number of plugins and external connections to the table. Combine your Facebook and Twitter feeds into your friends list, find out when people are about to message you before they do so, and call your buddies through your messenger interface akin to Skype. And that's just the tip of the IM iceberg.
Get a list of your favorite emoticons ready to go and hit the jump. The competitive world of instant messaging applications awaits!
What's that? You're not on Twitter? Get out. From Will Smith to surgeons--freakin' surgeons!--millions of people worldwide are using this popular online service to offer up brief, 140-character descriptions of the key events in their fascinating lives. And you too could join the bandwagon/party/mayhem, but you sure aren't going to do it from Twitter's Web page. That just wouldn't be very Maximum PC of you when a host of other options exist for pulling an up-to-the-second ton information out of this living, breathing Web entity.
So join us as we explore five of the top Twitter clients. If you like what you see, perhaps you'll even be so inspired as to write your very own "Tweet," or "Twit," or "message" about your software adventures! Just promise you won't do it from the operating table, ok?
Instant messaging is a great way to stay in touch, but anybody who uses it extensively knows the pain of having friends spread out over different services. Ever install a bulky and bloated IM client for just one friend? Or wished you could instant message all your groupies without running 5 different chat clients in the system tray? Well IM providers and a handful of crafty open source programmers have listened to our cries. Free browser-based alternatives exist for all the major platforms, and all in one desktop clients are finally able to bring the competing services together.