Pidgin is a full featured multiprotocol and multiplatform instant messaging (IM) client. It does basic text messaging well but does not have complete voice and video support.
These notes refer to Pidgin 2.10 on Linux and Windows, and were last updated 9 January 2015.
Pidgin and most plug-ins are found in the package managers of most distributions. A minimal install only needs pidgin. I also install gtkspell and appropriate myspell dictionaries (for spell checking), pidgin-guifications (pop-up notifications), and pidgin-plugins and pidgin-plugin-pack (other assorted plug-ins).
A Windows installer can be downloaded from Pidgin’s project site; install it in the usual manner.
Because Windows has no concept of package repositories, you will have to go hunting for plug-ins. Some are on the project site, others are on the guifications project site, and still others have their own pages.
Some plug-ins come as executable files and others in compressed packages. Executable files need to be installed as administrator as described above. For a plug-in that comes as a compressed package, decompress it to the Pidgin installation directory, usually C:\Program Files\Pidgin. However you install a plug-in on Windows, restart Pidgin afterward.
The only plug-in I regularly install on Windows is pidgin-msn-pecan.
Non-default settings I like are:
- Buddies – Show – Offline buddies: Enabled
- Tools – Preferences – Logging: Enable logging of instant messages and chats in plain text
- Tools – Preferences – Status/Idle: Minutes before becoming idle: 2
On Windows Vista and later, I find it helpful to set Pidgin’s icon to always be visible on the task bar.
To add or create an account, open Accounts – Manage Accounts – Add. Select your desired protocol. Assuming the XMPP protocol and the account email@example.com, fill in the username field with “user” and the domain field with “example.com”. The resource field is optional; it is to help you distinguish between multiple instances, such as “Work” and “Home”. The local alias field is also optional; your buddy sees it in his buddy list instead of your username. I enter my name here. If you are creating a new account, check the “Create this new account on the server” field. Press “Add” to add or create the account.
To control messenger spam, in the buddy list window open Tools – Privacy, select one of your accounts, and set your privacy level appropriately. “Allow only the users on my buddy list” is a reasonable choice for most users. Also check the contents of “Block only the users below”; this is your block list for this account. Repeat this for all your accounts.
On Windows, spell checking is built-in. On Linux, pidgin-plugin-pack provides the switch spell plug-in; when enabled it adds the menu entry “Spell Check” to the IM/Chat window, where you can change the spell checker to any installed aspell dictionary. Once changed, your language preference is remembered on a per-buddy basis, a nice detail I particularly appreciate.
On one Linux box running openSUSE Leap 42.1, aspell wasn’t installed, yet English spell checking worked. What was installed was libaspell15 and myspell-en. Then after installing myspell-es, Spanish spell checking worked. Huh.
Pidgin is identity-oriented rather than account-oriented, meaning it lets you focus on your buddies, not on protocols. This lets you do neat tricks like group buddies by their owner. Right click a buddy on your list and select “Expand”. Then drag to another screen name that belongs to the same person. Drag the different screen name/protocol combinations to order them as desired. Now when you initiate contact with that person, Pidgin will automatically select the best protocol to use based on protocol order and status.
One of Pidgin’s strengths is its many plug-ins, extending its functionality. What follows are just a few I have found useful. Unless otherwise stated, plug-ins are found in your distribution’s package manager (Linux) or on the Pidgin plug-in page (Windows).
Guifications displays “toaster” popups in a user-defined corner of the screen, similar to those found in Windows Live Messenger) and Yahoo Messenger.
pidgin-festival provides speech synthesis, reading your incoming messages aloud and freeing your eyeballs for other work.
pidgin-gevolution will automatically add your Evolution contacts to selected Pidgin accounts. It’s not something I use, but Evolution-using IM addicts may find it handy.
pidgin-msn-pecan provides a better performing implementation of the WLM (formerly known as MSN Messenger) protocol. For Linux it is available in your package manager; for Windows, download the executable from the project page, right-click on it, and select “Install as administrator”. When installed, it adds WLM as an alternative to the built-in MSN protocol when setting up a new account. If you wish to switch an existing account from MSN to WLM, that can be done, too: just disable that account before you attempt to modify it. If you have problems using WLM, try changing the advanced options.
pidgin-otr (OTR) provides encryption. Your buddy will also need OTR for this to work. There are OTR plug-ins available for other IM clients, so your buddy doesn’t have to use Pidgin. The one buddy I attempted to coach through the post-setup authentication found it frustrating and gave up.
Once installed, plug-ins are enabled in Tools – Plugins. I usually enable:
- Buddy State Notification
- Contact Availability Prediction
- Conversation Badger
- Last Seen
- Psychic Mode
- Switch Spell
- Voice/Video Settings (Linux only)
Once enabled, some plug-ins can be configured with the “Configure Plugin” button.
VOICE AND VIDEO
Perhaps the biggest weakness of pidgin is its lack of full support for voice and video. Video and voice are supported on Linux only and in the XMPP protocol only. If you need voice and video on another platform or protocol, then pidgin is not for you.
TIPS AND TRICKS
If Pidgin crashes upon logging in to an account, try disabling account(s) to identify which account is causing the problem. Then try disabling options in the troublesome account to discover which option(s) are causing the crash. In my experience some of the advanced options in the WLM protocol can cause crashes on some installations.
To run a second instance of Pidgin on Linux, pidgin -mn: The -m switch allows multiple instances, and -n switch opens the new instance without logging in to your accounts.
To run a second instance of Pidgin on Windows, see these instructions.
On one computer (HP Pavilion 10-e010nr) Pidgin was silent, despite having the same configuration that worked on another computer running the same version of Pidgin and operating system. As a workaround, I changed Tools – Preferences – Sounds – Method from the default Automatic to Command, then set as sound command play -v 2 %s.
Frequently Asked Questions about Pidgin