Pidgin

pidgin I first heard of Pidgin on Angel-grrl’s blog. At that time I didn’t really think much of it, though I had been thinking about switching to Trillian for some time. Anyway, as I add more and more foreign friends, they tend to prefer MSN Messenger over AIM and now whenever I reboot, I have to start 2 IM applications.

A few days ago, Digg announced a new version of Pidgin was released. I finally decided to give it a try. Some things I was looking forward included being able to talk to people via multiple IM protocols and being able to group multiple aliases together. Some people have 3 or 4 screen names and they end up scattered all across my buddy list, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which screen name to IM. Therefore I decided to give it a try. Worse case, I just switch back to AIM and Live Messenger.

Installation:
The installation of Pidgin went through successfully and I didn’t hit any problems with either Windows Vista or running it as non-admin on Windows XP.

Multiple Clients:
The multiple client support is nice. I got AIM, MSN, Yahoo, and XMPP (Google/GTalk) working, though I don’t really have any buddies on Yahoo or XMPP. I just added them since I had accounts with them. So far, they’re working fine.

Grouping Screen Names:
This was unintuitive to discover (at least for me). Xyon claims it was semi-unintuitive as he was able to figure it out after some time. Apparently to group screen names, you right click one of them, click Expand, and now you can drag other screen names into that group. I had tried creating an alias, tried to select multiple screen names, etc, but none of those worked. Once you know how to do it, it’s simple, but the process is quite tedious.

After grouping, it has some algorithm to determine which screen name you should be IMing based on their availability and idleness. If you want to manually select a different screen, you can so with the context menu or if the IM window is already open, under the Send To file menu. I think the process could be further simplified, but I guess I’m just nitpicking here.

Keyboard shortcuts:
In AIM, to open a new IM window was Alt+i. In Pidgin, it’s Alt+m.
To close an IM window in AIM was Esc. In Pidgin, it’s Ctrl+w.

Not really saying it’s better or worse, but it’ll take some time getting used to.

One thing which I found quite annoying is in certain areas of the UI, when I start typing, a little white box pops up with the 1st letter I hit (i.e. searching for a screen name in my buddy list or searching for a font to use in the Preference window). Only the first letter registers and it just halts and doesn’t really do any searching. It also freezes the window for about 5 seconds which annoyed the heck out of me.

Unicode Support:
This is the biggest set back and may actually be the reason I finally switch back to AIM. Unicode support is horrible in Pidgin. I found this support ticket after searching for a bit: Asian Characters not appearing on buddy list:

Under the normal Windows binary of Pidgin, Asian characters are not displayed on the buddy list. When hovering over a screen name however, the contact window that pops up shows the characters just fine. This happens on Windows XP and Vista.

Reading through the history, there were a couple suggestions such as changing my default conversation font to something that supported the whole Unicode range. I changed to MS UI Gothic from Verdana and now I can see what I’m typing instead of square blocks with 4 0s in it. However, after doing some test with some friends, apparently it doesn’t send it correctly across, which it did fine when using AIM 6.0+.

There was another suggestion of changing the GTK theme, but that didn’t fix it either.

I did find this other ticket which was useful: poor IME support in windows:

I’m not sure it is even possible to programatically set the input method, so I don’t think that remembering is possible.

The closest that you can get is to have the default be the Windows IME input method, which can be done by setting the GTK_IM_MODULE environment variable to ime.

Pet Peeves:

  • Buddy Info Window doesn’t disappear – When I was going through grouping screen names together, by hovering above the screen name, the info box would appear, but wouldn’t disappear for some reason. Therefore it blocked a big chunk of the screen, until I hover over the same screen name again and it disappeared.
  • Doesn’t know monitor boundary – When I align my buddy list to the left of my monitor, getting buddy info windows would have part of it off the screen due to some centering rule.
  • Unable to synchronize settings – After doing all my alias groupings, apparently there’s no way to synchronize this information with another system, without manually copying over the settings files.

4 thoughts on “Pidgin

  1. Pidgin was the first time I’d encountered “Meta Contacts”, since I hadn’t tried out a trial for Trillian Pro at that time. I thought the idea was cool, but the implementation left something to be desired. It made me annoyed that I couldn’t always send to a particular contact regardless of current status; for example, I tended to want to send to people’s AIM contacts, but in many cases I also had a gTalk contact for them, and Pidgin would pick that if their AIM was idle/away.

    I was able to get Pidgin to a pretty reasonable point, but there were a couple of issues that were deal breakers for me. I probably ranted about those in that post. The window positions constantly being reset really got on my nerves after a bit. I never managed to get Miranda to the point where I wanted it to be, and then I finally figured out my Trillian freeze problem and just went back to using it and Google Talk.

    I actually tried the trial version of Pro and loved it, but not enough to justify buying it. =\ If the video chat functionality had actually worked, I would have been sold. The chat history was great, and I loved being able to put my gTalk contacts into the same IM client. I also found a skin that I really like (Stealth OS). I guess I’ll hold out and see what Astra is like.

  2. I believe they’ve fixed the window position bug as I can exit Pidgin and restart pidgin and the buddy list and IM window would both appear in the same location as previous.

    I also dislike the fact that you have to give aliases to every screen name instead of just a group of screen names.

    The fact that if my friend has 2 screen names: abc and xyz and my buddy list is sorted alphabetically, the screen names would then jump up and down my buddy list depending on which screen name is the most active.

    I’ve figured the ordering you have in the meta contacts matters. The order they are in is the order they’ll search in. So if 2 or 3 contacts in that meta contact group is active, it’ll default to the 1st one. It’s only if the 1st one is away or idle that it starts searching for the rest. I guess a feature like “do not automatically select” would be nice. That way you can still manually IM them through that SN, but it’ll never be automatically selected.

  3. Initially I wasn’t having window positioning issues. It was after I decided I wanted to change my positioning again that it refused to cooperate. I tried uninstalling the extension (extpos) and even a complete reinstall of Pidgin to no avail. If the newer version just does this without need of an extension, that’s great.

    I think the CTRL+Backspace functionality not working was a bigger issue for me.

  4. I didn’t enable or install any extensions to get the positioning working.

    As for CTRL+Backspace, if that’s the shortcut to delete the previous word, it’s working now.

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