Instant messengers are everywhere, cell phones, PDAs, video game machines, and - of course - computers. And just like most people now have several phone numbers, home, work, cell, fax, the computer's phone line, etc., a lot of people have several screen names on various IM clients. There are a number of them out there - AIM, Yahoo, MSN, etc. - and each comes with its own ad-ridden, spyware-bloated client.
To stay connected, someone might have as many as 4 or 5 IM programs running at once. This not only eats away at their RAM, but exposes them to security risks, makes their privacy more vulnerable, clogs up their screen, and can be very confusing. Enter GAIM - a single IM client that handles all the main IM protocols (or networks) in a lightweight, easy to use, ad-free interface.
Let's consider the plight of my friend "Brad Schmidt". Brad is a hip guy when it comes to technology. He has a computer job, and he has to stay connected all the time. He's got broadband connectivity at work and at home. He's got "Friends" that he's known for years, but has never seen their faces or heard their voices. They are all online. Brad has used various ISPs over his online-life, and has even been relegated to using the library's computers as his only means of surfing during a tight financial period. As a result - Brad has many screennames on many IM networks.
Brad doesn't want to get rid of his screennames or get off any of the networks, so he has three clients, AIM, Yahoo, and MSN. When checking his Task Manager one day, Brad notices that his official AIM client is using 19 MB of RAM. His Yahoo is using 23 MB - and MSN is using 20. - That's a total of 62 MB of RAM - almost half a stick. Not a big deal, since Brad has 512 MB, but still a good chunk.
I tell Brad about GAIM, and he tries it. He turns off all of his other clients - even turns off their option to load on start-up - then tries GAIM. He has no problem figuring out how to log on - to all three clients at once - then he checks his RAM usage. GAIM is only using 16 Megabytes! That's less than any *one* of the other 3, and it does the work of all 3 combined.
Brad quickly deletes the other clients. Welcome to open source, Brad. ;-)
Gaim works on more networks than the 3 my friend was used to using. Gaim supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, IRC, Jabber, Gadu-Gadu, and Zephyr networks.
Gaim users can log in to multiple accounts on multiple IM networks simultaneously. This means that you can be chatting with friends on AOL Instant Messenger, talking to a friend on Yahoo Messenger, and sitting in an IRC channel all at the same time.
Gaim supports many features of the various networks, such as file transfer, away messages, typing notification, and MSN window closing notification. It also goes beyond that and provides many unique features. A few popular features are Buddy Pounces, which give the ability to notify you, send a message, play a sound, or run a program when a specific buddy goes away, signs online, or returns from idle; and plug-ins, consisting of text replacement, a buddy ticker, extended message notification, and more.
A user can easily import existing buddy lists with just a couple of clicks - since most networks house the lists on their servers anyway, it is often done automatically on the first login. To make it easy to keep your friends clearly defined, all users have icons next to their names that designate the network they are using.
So if a user knows a CoolGal2004 on AIM and a CoolGal2004 on Yahoo, and the user is pretty sure the two are different people, the icon can display which is which. Of course, one can always give one's buddies aliases, or use their real names on the buddy list. Also, more info, such as usernames, idle times, or warning levels, is available by just selecting a name and clicking the Get More Info button. The info available per buddy depends on which network that person is using.
Gaim comes with the typical IM features one would expect to find - like adjustable font sizes and colors, the use of emoticons, spell-check, customizable away messages, and so on. The emoticons change according to which IM network is being used.
Gaim also lets users tailor the privacy settings for each network. A person can choose who is allowed to contact him: all users, only those on a specific list of users, or just people on his buddy list - the same goes for blocking users. Conversations can be logged for future reference.
Gaim also comes with some unique features, like tabbed chatting, which lets users put all of their conversations in one window. This is great if one doesn't like a billion pop-up IM windows all over the place!
Gaim runs on Windows, Linux, and even some hand-held OSes, like iPaq and the Sharp Zaurus - so a user can have a familiar client on multiple OSes.
To learn more or grab your own copy of Gaim - which includes the latest GTK+ Runtime environment in the Windows installer (which means it's easier to install than GIMP - of course, you can always install Gaim first, and then grab the GIMP without having to install GTK+ separately) - just visit their website, http://gaim.sourceforge.net/. The downloads are here - http://gaim.sourceforge.net/downloads.php.