I’ve Been Adiumed
Have you noticed me bugging you a lot over Instant Messenger these days? If so, you’re not alone. Over the last two weeks, I’ve finally discovered something hundreds of thousands of Mac users already know about: Adium.
Adium is a multi-protocol Instant Messaging client which lets you connect to all of your peeps on MSN, iChat, AOL, Yahoo, Jabber, and a few others. I’d tried Adium in the past but found it too riddled with bugs and incompatibilities for everyday use, but I’m happy to report that as of version 0.81 (can I get a 1.0 please? have some confidence in your product!), Adium is most clearly the best instant messaging client in existence, and dare I say, one of the nicest pieces of software I’ve ever used.
I tend to judge software on its details. Most programs these days can do the big tasks correctly, or else no one would use them, but the true test of a great app is how it handles the little things. How does it look on screen? How does it react to certain clicks and drags? How does it alert you? How customizable is it? These are the very things Adium excels at. Here are some particularly nice examples:
- First and foremost, Adium offers a beautiful customizable interface. I hate iChat’s bubbly chrome look. I hate MSN’s bloated windows. I hate Yahoo’s 1993 design sensibilities. Adium lets you choose from hundreds of design themes, almost all of which are better than what MSN, Apple, and Yahoo force upon you. My personal favorite is “Decay” (shown to the right), which combines a nice transparent black chromeless window with Kottke’s space-efficient Silkscreen typeface.
- Adium also lets you customize the look of your message windows. I use the built-in “Plastic” theme (shown also to the right) which features subtle shadowing and rounded corners.
- The ability to combine contacts from multiple services is brilliant. Even when I used Fire (another multi-protocol IM client), I liked to separate all of my contacts out by IM service, but then I realized this practice is pretty pointless. What IM service someone uses yields no logical information about how to classify them as a contact so you’re really better off putting everyone in the same pool. If you want to then group by “Work, Family, Friends, etc.” fine. Adium not only lets you lump everyone into the same pool but it also allows you to combine contacts with multiple IM accounts into one contact by simply dragging and dropping.
- Adium uses Growl alerts. Those of you in the Windows world have this nice little built-in system notification called Toast. Whenever an application wants to notify you of something, it can pop up a Toast message from your taskbar. OS X does not have such a notification system built-in, but an add-on called Growl enables this functionality and in a much more beautiful and customizable way than Toast. Adium can be configured to fade in Growl alerts upon almost any event. The result is shown to the right.
- Adium also pioneered tabbed chat windows. If you’re an IM whore like me, you may often have 10 IM windows up on your desktop during any given workday. Which looks better to the boss… 10 IM windows or one? I’d probably fire someone if I saw 10 IM windows on their screen all day. Adium’s support for tabbed IM windows doesn’t end there though. You can always drag a tab onto your desktop to create a separate window, and the tabs also act as status indicators for when people are typing. It’s these sorts of little touches which make Adium a superstar.
- If you have a bunch of wiseasses in your contact list like I do, you’ll appreciate Adium’s ability to hardcode names for all of your contacts. “Jer Supply” becomes “Jeremy Fisher”. “Karrne Asada” becomes “Steve Karr”. “Andy Clarke — And All That Malarkey” becomes “Andy Clarke”. Two “Mark”s become “Mark Budos” and “Mark Wubben”. And most importantly, the jerkstore on your list who changes his name everyday to something totally unrecognizable (a sin I was guilty of for over a year) becomes “Jake Thomas”. Don’t get me wrong… I’m all for creative IM names. But when your contact list is over 100 people, it just tends to slow things down when you’re trying to find somebody.
All in all, I only have two complaints about Adium:
- The default theme and soundsets are not ideal. If a user tries Adium out for the first time and doesn’t take the time to customize, they may not have as high of an opinion about the product as they might otherwise. When someone sends me a message and I hear the obnoxious sound of a duck quacking, I have to wonder a little about what I just downloaded. I humbly suggest to the Adium developers that they ship their application with as subtle a theme and soundset as possible.
- I wish I could see my status in either the menubar or even better, the contact list (a la MSN IM and iChat). As of now, the only way to see your status is in the Dock icon or by pulling down the status menu. Since I auto-hide my dock, it means that nowhere on my screen is my status consistently visible. Bad… but hopefully something that will be addressed.
If you’d like to give Adium a try, here are some links to get you going. Everything is free of course:
- Visit the Adium site and download the latest version.
- Download the Decay theme to pretty up your contact list.
- Download a nicer Dock icon to replace the duck. This is an icon set I assembled based on Wesley Underwood’s “Speech Bubble” set. Full credit goes to Wesley as all I did was modify the set so that status is indicated by color. Clear is offline. Green is available. Yellow is idle. Red is away. Here is what the icon set looks like: