A new conversation window interface and a revamped formatting toolbar make Pidgin 2.1.0 a compelling upgrade for existing users, but if you want or need a multi-protocol client that supports voice or video chat, you'll still need to look elsewhere.
The user interface (UI) improvements are, collectively, a Big Deal. In a post last month, Pidgin developer Sean Eagan discussed the UI issues -- including buddy icons and tooltips displaying unattractively all over the conversation window, an overcrowded toolbar, and features that were just too difficult to access. He described the upcoming fixes extensively.
"For 2.1.0," he wrote, "our designer Hylke Bons, has created a new conversation window interface that clears some of these issues up." The screen shots show a larger, cleaner window and a reorganized toolbar with two dropdown menus and a reset button. Eagan said the dropdown font menu "was inspired by Tomboy," a note-taking application.
Pidgin, formerly known as GAIM (before settling a trademark lawsuit with AOL), supports every IM network you've heard of as well as several that may be unfamiliar to you: AIM, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, Groupwise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, QQ, SILC, SIMPLE, Sametime, XMPP, Yahoo!, and Zephyr.
It does not yet support MySpace IM, but probably will in the near future. Clients are available for Windows, Fedora Core, and CentOS/Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or download the source code. A "cousin" application, based on Pidgin's libraries, for Mac users is Adium.
It will be some time before 2.1.0 packages turn up in most distros, but packages for Fedora Core, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and CentOS are available from the Pidgin Web site. Source code and binaries for Windows are available as well.