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There are a couple of programs that allow you to use more than one instant messaging service using only one client.

Macs have Fire, an instant messaging engine that captures in one place several different others (Yahoo, MSN, etc.). Is there something like that out there for PC users?

Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that there are definitely a couple of tools to do exactly what you want.

The bad news is that it might technically not be legal.

There are two popular packages that will do what you want:

  • Trillian, a commercial product for Windows with a free version that's been around for a long time, and has a large following.

  • Pidgin is an open source client that runs on several platforms.

Both are compatible with the major instant messaging clients like AIM, MSN Instant Messenger, Yahoo, ICQ and others.

For now.

And therein lies the controversy.

Instant messaging protocols are typically closed. The protocols used by MSN Instant Messenger, or AOL Instant Messenger are not public protocols. Tools like Fire, Trillian, and Pidgin have all had to reverse engineer the protocols to work. And if the protocol changes, the tools break until the tools are updated to be compatible.

And, technically, using a non-supported client such as Trillian or Pidgin is probably illegal. From AOL's point of view, for example, users of those programs are depriving them of the ability to display the advertising that supports the free service.

I wish that the services could agree on a common protocol or a way of interoperating or at least supporting a common client. But they do not.

Article C2288 - February 21, 2005 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

June 2, 2006 1:27 PM

The dominant open-source response to IM seems to be Jabber. It is an open XML-based protocol implemented by several clients, including Gaim. Jabber servers can be configured to act as gateways to AIM, MSN, ICQ, Yahoo, etc... and can combine all of those protocols for a Jabber client.

gary chester
August 14, 2006 2:26 AM

i have 2 hotmail accounts so can i install and run msn messenger twice at the same time on one machine?

October 2, 2006 2:26 PM

hi leo
i just want to know how can i run two different accouts on msn 8 beta at same time ........ thnx

December 22, 2006 9:27 AM

Can I use more than one instant messaging service using only one client?":
actually i had polygamy 7.5 it was functioning well till i update my msn to live messenger and then did not work although i had download the 8.0 version of it but did not work can u tell me the right one and how to use it

October 10, 2008 11:08 AM

I would like to instant message with friends from AOL, MSN and various others. Does that mean I must create an AOL address or my friend must download a .net passport address for example??? I am very confused????

April 14, 2010 1:25 PM

can i use 2 instant messnger on the same time? one for my collegue work and tha other one is for my familly and friends...

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