Adium vs iChat - Battle Royale - Would you like prize with that?

by Steve Mallett

Adium is an AIM instant messaging client for OS X. Well, so is iChat which comes prepackaged with OS X these days.

I'd like to get users of either application to try the other and report back on the pros and cons of each here.

Play with each app and let's see what y'all think in a head to head comparison with OS X IM users. Report back here your thoughts on:

  • U.I.
  • Stability
  • Features (lack or bloat)
  • Hackability
  • Pleaure of use
  • and which one you'll use hence forth

I've got a shiny new O'Reilly book of your choice for a randomly choosen reviewer that will be choosen March 21.

*For those who think I may be biased I'm writing this from my iBook which is sitting next to my Linux desktop machine.

Update:I've chosen these two apps because they focus on the exact same thing, AIM IM. Perhaps a future, general IM shootout will include a full range of IM apps.

So, what did you think?


2003-03-07 06:30:50
What about Fire and Proteus?
Fire -
Proteus -
2003-03-07 06:33:48
What about Fire and Proteus?
Fire -
Proteus -
2003-03-07 09:36:13
adium is supreme
i have been a user of just about all of the clients: fire, proteus, ichat, aim, and adium. adium is my favorite for several reasons:

--wonderfully customizable interface. with as much time as i spend on IM i want to make the environment as friendly and as unobtrusive as possible. adium lets me set up my contact lists how i want, my windows how i want, and the tabbed interface is absolutely perfect for IM'ing people

--extensive preferences if you want them. it works right out of the box or you can get in and customize the heck out of it. i like that

--very stable. except for the few hiccups where AOL changes their servers, adium has never let me down. it runs on all my machines and the only thing i use AOL for is to upload my current buddy list to their servers.

--the adium developer believes in communication with his users, and that is always appreciated

jodin ravia

2003-03-07 10:37:40
adium, ichat? fire!
while Adium and iChat are great apps, they only do AOL AIM and lack the ability to serve as instant messaging apps for Yahoo and ICQ. Fire is a great, often updated, app that does all of this though does lack iChat's VH1 popup video feel.

2003-03-07 10:41:54
My comparison
As an almost constant user of chat for the past 5 years I have some definite opinions on what I want out of a chat client. I've used zephyr (at college), ICQ, and AIM through the years, finally settling on AIM. AOL's IM interface is annoying, to say the least, so it was nice when the Mac got some decent 3rd party clients.

First an overview:

Adium is an unsupported (by AOL) 3rd-party client, and as such, not privy to all the features that AOL reserves for its primary chat servers. As such, Adium specializes in providing a streamlined power user interface that lets you get the most out of the limited feature set.

iChat, as the "iApp" name indicates, is consumer-oriented: it is designed to be easy and fun to use, with an attractive interface and not too many confusing options. Apple has a special agreement with AOL that allows them to use all of the features of AOL's main server -- plus, iChat introduces the ability to use your .Mac account name to chat.

Both applications do their job very well, and the one you prefer will depend on how useful you find the different approaches.

Instead of doing a comprehensive comparison, I'm going to highlight one main issue: the idea of Adium being the power user's preferred choice. I would consider myself a power user (I'm a programmer and designer by profession, and I make great use of the unix-like features in OS X), but after using both clients extensively, I finally decided to go with iChat. It was a tough decision.

I like being able to do things quickly on the computer, particularly when it comes to something like chat, which I have running in the background ALL the time. I want to be able to start and switch conversations quickly. I want to be able to scan the screen and tell at a glance what's going on. When I'm talking to 5 or 10 people at once while web browsing and messing around on an SSH session, I'd like to not have to hunt for windows all the time.

Adium's solution to this is simple and elegant: make every command accessible from the keyboard, and lay the conversations out in a tabbed window. Furthermore, it makes great use of the dock icon, overlaying short messages whenever someone logs on or off, sends a message, or even when someone goes away and comes back! Color coding and unobtrusive flashing is used in the dock and the chat window to indicate statuses and messages. The levels and styles of notification can all be customized in the *very* detailed preferences window.

iChat, on the other hand, lays the information out visually. Buddy icons (which Adium doesn't support) are used extensively as visual cues -- they're in the buddy list next to the person's name and status, as well as in the chat transcript itself. If you haven't seen this before, you need to visit and at least look at the screen shots. Your icon appears on the right side of the window with a color-coded comic-style text bubble emanating from it every time you type a message. Similarly, your buddy's icon emanates messages from the left side of the window. At first this seems completely gratuitous, but after giving it a chance for a little while, I decided that it makes windows much easier to identify and conversations much easier to scan. For people who don't like it, the chat bubbles and icon display can be turned off for a much more minimal display -- but if you do that, then I don't know why you wouldn't just use Adium instead.

Like I said, it was a tough choice, but iChat's attractiveness and intuitive visual cues finally won out over Adium's tabbed interface for me. Adium is slightly more efficient, but even the pervasive keyboard commands don't provide much of an advantage over the instant recognition provided by iChat's icons and chat bubbles. iChat is simply a joy to use -- I find that I'm more and more a sucker for the elegant and attractive interfaces of the iApps. Plus, little perks like Address Book and Mail integration, file transfers, and status messages when you're available (with the iChatStatus hack!) certainly help.

There are quite a few areas in which iChat could improve, though. Better keyboard navigation. Buddy list groups. Chat window messages about status changes. Window position memory. Better logging. Tabbed chats (hey, if Safari gets them, why can't iChat?). If we're lucky, maybe those will show up in the 2.0!

-Joel Young
joel at inreverie dot org

2003-03-07 14:34:36
Adium, iChat, et al...
To me, Adium is quite simply the most well thought-out OS X app there is. The tabbed conversation window is essential for me, as I often have 4-8 conversations going at once and need to be able to easily flip between them. Having all those conversations in seperate windows clutters up my screen and is absolutely impossible to keep track of. The customization available in the dock to keep me informed of all my buddies coming and leaving is something I've also gotten so I can't live without.

However, Adium doesn't support file transfer, something I only need to do once a month or so, but occasionally it IS the easiest way to send or receive a file. For this purpose I have a username I use just for transfering files. I fire up iChat, get or send the file, and quit when I'm done.

Since someone mentioned Fire, I'll add that since I also have MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, and Jabber accounts that I very rarely use, I do keep Fire around for the occasional conversations, but since the overwhelming majority of my buddies are on AIM, I luckily don't have to deal with its inferior interface all that often (apparently Fire has found a way to implement AIM file transfers as well, something I may try next time I need that functionality so I can get rid of iChat completely and be down to two IM clients).

2003-03-07 16:09:39
iChat icons....why I use Adium
I had used Adium for at least a couple of months before Apple's iChat came out, and for the most part I had (and have) been totally content with Adium. Its interface is clean and simple, and I find the tabbed conversations to be immensely easier to manage than separate windows. While I occassionally yearn for file transfers, buddy icons, and better access to profiles, I use it to chat, and that it does flawlessly (well...close enough for me).

When iChat came out, I was very excited. I was sure Apple had seen Adium, so I figured iChat would blow it away. Instead, I ended up blowing it off after using it for just a few days. My first issue with it was real estate. The messages just took up too much space, and I couldn't look at past comments easily enough. Big icons and colorful graphics aren't going to help my chat at all (and the last thing I need is to have more fun chatting so I do it more!). But the biggest and most unrelenting problem I had was with the icons. On IM my icon had been the straight black and white apple. When I started using iChat, it immediately grabbed my picture from my address card in Address Book and would not let me change it to save my life. If I changed the icon, it changed my vCard and vice versa.

The feature I would most like to see easily accessible is one that let's you see a person's real name in connection with a screen name. I liked that iChat lets you use a person's real name, but I hated how it was implemented. I've since gone as far as to uninstall iChat and survive with Adium.

It's Adium all the way....

2003-03-07 18:52:14
A review from an experienced user
All right, let me give you a play by play on each of the points you wished to be addressed.

First order of business would be to direct the folks to the websites addressing those applications:




User interface is a tricky subject to discuss. What might work for me might not necessarily be the best thing for the person next to me. This is true when it comes to defining which user interface wins hands down in a competitive field where user interface has been tweaked by the golden rule, "Make the interface as similar to the competition's product, so the switching of applications from their program to ours won't tax them in the process of doing so".

That being said:

It is tie on almost single point with the exception of tabbing, which is a user interface option on Adium [in fact, they offer 3 different forms of users interface, as opposed to just one by iChat]. Both are geared towards simplification by default. Adium just simply outdoes iChat by offering more useful (not redundant) interfaces.

Winner: Adium


iChat: You would presume that a program written by Apple would be the most stable of the two. In my experience, it has not been the case. iChat has quit on me quite a few times. It is actually one of the two reasons why I decided to go back to Adium [tabbing being the second] after experimenting with iChat for a while. It is probably the most unstable product that has ever come out of Apple, truly. Not to say that it doesn't have any future on my desktop. I will constantly review iChat with every new incarnation that comes out of Apple's HQ. One sticky point, it had a tendency to consume almost 70% of my CPU usage at certain times, slowing my entire machine down to a crawl.

Adium: In the last 4 years of using Adium, it has only quit on me 2 or 3 times [due to change in AOL protocols]. It consumes less than 1% of my computing power. It's small, nimble, and rock stable. Fixes come quickly. The author of this program corresponds with you personally, whereas with Apple's programmers, it's like talking to a wall. I've submitted over 80 to 90 bug reports and I have yet to hear a single word back from them.

Ironic? The guy that wrote Adium was only 19 when he wrote it, and his software has only gotten better over time. Kudos to a one man programming team outdoing Apple's army of cocoa programmers.

Before you guys think I'm going on a love fest with Adium, keep this in mind; I bear no loyalty to any product, only to the ones that serve my needs the best.

Features (lack or bloat)

iChat: it is a full fledged AOL authorized product, which means it has access to file transferring features, AOL's personal servers are completely open to them, and there will be no black-listing of any screen names. It has avatar editing feature that Adium simply does not have, the ability to drag and drop pictures onto personalized buddy list, and have the program automatically configure the picture to fit the icon requirements as opposed having you do it in a Photoshop-like editor. It has voice over features and compatibility with Redezvenous, which is a boon for certain SOHO.

Adium: it is a bare boned instant messenger system. There are no features. It's a pure instant messaging machine. It is exactly what Safari is today as compared to Netscape. However, it is a third party unlicensed by AOL, so it cannot afford to add on features that are AOL server reliant.

Winner: iChat


iChat: there are certain settings that you can tweak your program with. Besides that it's a straightforward meat and potato setting tweak. The rests are off limits.

Adium: Its primary purpose for its own existence was to be hacked, hacked, and hacked to the extreme. There isn't one single category that cannot be hacked, tweaked, diddled, and messed with. You'll spend days, if not weeks trying to fine-tune your Adium program down to the very taste you like. It's probably one of the most truly customizable programs I've ever seen in my entire life. I always get nervous when I have to reformat my hard-drive due to the fact I can't always remember exactly how I tweaked my Adium and don't want to waste another few days tweaking my Adium to my ideal world of a perfect instant messenger.

Winner: Adium

Pleasure of use

Both of them are a joy to use. File transfer, Voice over, and eye candies are a compelling reason for iChat if you wish for your IM to be anything more beyond its primary purpose.

I f you have a lot of friends and don't mind using the e-mails to transfer files, then Adium is more of your flavor, since nothing beats tabbing in keeping your world organized.

Winner: TIE

And which one you'll use henceforth

Question to ask oneself: Am I looking for a single blade that serves a purpose and does it perfectly, or a Swiss Army knife, that has many features, but all are mediocre at the best?

My answer?

At this moment, Adium. I'm a purist. :-)

2003-03-08 02:39:20
SOCKS proxying
Last I checked, the AOL AIM client was the only one that would go through a SOCKS5 proxy, and _none_ of the clients available for OS X, including the AOL one took the proxy information from the system network preferences.

This is useful when I have my iBook at work.

2003-03-08 11:00:09
Adium 2.0 is being actively developed, and it will be released later this year (and you can even use it now, if you have the OS X developer tools- - it's somewhat usable, but not really ready for everyday use). I guess we'll have to have another shootout after 2.0's released, and by then, we'll probably also have another version of iChat...
2003-03-08 16:05:59
iChat is excellent
I find that iChat's integration with is the main reason I continue to use it despite the many complaints people have. I don't have any need for groups (In real AIM they are all in one big group for me anyway) and I don't mind that I can't send or receive carriage returns (in fact sometimes I like it better that way). I will admit that the current away message system really really sucks and needs improvement. Also there has to be an easier way to get someone's buddy icon as their Address Icon. Adium has far more features that I never need and has many more bugs. Also since iChat uses OSCAR instead of TOC (Adium uses TOC) iChat gives me full benefits of using the AIM system.

PS Safari spellcheck is totally Awesome

2003-03-09 11:54:49
Only reason i use iChat from a iBook...
There is only one reason I use iChat from my iBook. I tried. I really tried to use Adium. I've used Adium on my desktop for a long time. I like it... A lot. the options, etc.

The one killer feature on a portable is that iChat can tell when you sleep your machine, and tries to reconnect when you turn back on. It also seems to detect when you connect to an Airport network, and tries to connect then. Adium, unfortunatly, doesn't know how to deal w/ the frequent disconnectes, etc.

I like the logging in Adium much better, etc... but if i'm not online, no one can talk to me. iChat just does a better job of it.

mbarr1244 on AIM

2003-03-09 15:28:49
window size -adium goes smaller
iChat's minimum window size is too large for my tastes. I like to have multiple windows open, and have then be very small. iChat just won't go small enough. In addition, Adium just has a much cleaner UI...iChat is too cute.

Big win for Adium, but I don't use any of the "advanced" features of IM...just quick messaging.

2003-03-09 19:39:49
Nonintrusive IM'ing
I've used both Adium and iChat extensively. Here's my 2 cents:

Adium: completely noninstrusive. It lets you do other things while chatting and still know whats going on. If people come on/offline or someone messages you, it will show up nicely on the dock icon, using 0 percent of your other precious screenspace. Also, while you are chatting, you can close the window and come right back to it without losing you're chats. Works well while doing lots of stuff and being able to keep on top of instant messaging.

iChat: pretty looking ui. the bubble chat interface is kinda cool

Conclusion: adium all the way

2003-03-12 13:10:33
adium wins by a mile, but i still use ichat
iChat's pro's: File trnasfers are possible on iChat. Looks really nice. Made by apple. Simple. The little custom subtitles in the buddy list. easy changeing of buddy icon. iChat's little smiley menu right in the chat window. That's about it.

Adiums pro's: The TABS. THey are awesome. I love the tabs. Profiles. Comuntiy chats. the bird. The tabs. The cool dock icons. It was around much longer. Support for many more of AIM's features (except for file transfer). Adium uses less bandwidth and less CPU/RAM.

I Use iChat because it is much easier and simpler, and when I got my new computer I just never installed adium. I might switch back to adium now that you remind me though. I'd say its a close tie. iChat will continue to improve however, and surpass adium.

My name is Josh Lee. My e-mail adress is, and i'd really like a nice Oreily book. I don't really care what its about, as I am trying to learn everything I can.

2003-03-13 12:05:56
Why Talk About This App??
I know your question does NOT address thia app at all....but I think BOTH rather suck!! Any serious Chat App today has to incorporate a BROAD range of servuces. I think the only one todate that does this well on the OS X platform is Fire.

Now, even stating this...Fire has it's drawbacks too. It needs a better interface and it needs to be able to be able to work with WebCams. I expect this support in the next release of iChat...I also expect the next release of iChat to be able to support multiple chat services as well.

So, while I use Fire for now...I expect the Fire to burn out soon.


2003-03-14 08:30:35
Proteus Rocks
Especially in this world of AOL, Yahoo Messanger, Yahoo and Jabber buddies
2003-03-14 09:44:48
local messaging?
Do any of these apps support local (an offline network) messaging between OS X and Linux?


2003-03-18 18:18:32
Adium vs. iChat
I've been using Adium for about a year and a half, and it was a welcome relief from AIM! I love the minimalist interface and simple color indicators. Tabbed browsing is a must -- with AOL or AIM I would fill half the screen with windows. Another plus is that the quacking keeps my roommate up at night.

When iChat came out, I gave it a whirl, and generally liked it too. The chat bubbles show the flow of conversation better than aligned text. It automatically found other iChatters on my local network, which was very cool.

The biggest thing I notice is that iChat takes twice as many pixels to do the same thing as Adium. Maybe Apple wants us to buy more Cinema Displays... I haven't had stability problems with either. Overall, I still use Adium, but not because iChat is lacking in any way.


2003-03-19 21:29:26
Different strokes for different folks...
Apple has taken a big step forward with it's digital hub concept by pairing up with AOL for AIM services. Still, although I hate to set a precedent, iChat is a glaringly 1.0 application. It does offer file transfer services though which Adium lacks. In this case I think the choice of client is based not on what is necessarily better but what doesn't suck as much for what you are doing.
U.I. is one area where these two apps distinguish themselves greatly. iChat follows the metal look that the iApps have been given recently (although in violation of Apple's own HI guidelines in some cases) along with the very Aquaish speech bubbles. Although you can change the colors and perhaps make it a little more minimalist, this isn't where iChat shines. Adium is probably the winner in terms of U.I. customization as you can do almost anything you would like (and if you can't change it all you have to do is code in the ability to change it). They even have a selection of seven different icons for you to chose from. One feature I really enjoy is tabbed chatting. This is also presumably popular with the tabbed browsing crowd and I think it shows Adium's gearing towards power users. Once integration becomes part of the picture then things become more blurred. If there are people you talk with often then integration with the Address Book is convenient, and to complement this is rendezvous chatting and being built into as well. Paired with the fact that you can view your buddies and change your status from the menu-bar, iChat dominates on the integration front.
For OS X users, stability is much more of a non-issue than it was on OS 9. Frankly, I have used Adium forever and had no crashing issues with it. iChat I have had less experience with but have had no issues in a month of use. I am inclined to believe that it may be a little more unstable simply because it's components are spread out and thus more likely to fail. But again, all this has been a non-issue for me.
The one area that decides what client to use for most people is simply features. To address the question of bloat, iChat feels a little more heavy overall (I don't know why, Adium is actually the one that's closer to creeping featurism) but in use neither feels at all burdensome. Each side has it's points, iChat's being major integration, and Adium's being U.I. customizability.
Hack-ability is so one sided it isn't even funny. The preferences in Adium are a maze to navigate through and everything under the sun is tweak-able. If it isn't then you can dive into the source and make it customizable. Adium is very clearly a power user app. iChat on the other hand has a moderately sized preference menu and it's nice that novice users won't get lost. I think it is also a question of maturity and iChat hasn't had the time to grow yet.
Each side has it's points, so on any given day I could be using one or the other, they are both great and fun to use while having distinctive flavor. In future, as iChat comes to fruition i see myself using it more because integration is one thing I harp on a great deal. If you want a quick, easy way to look at it, I'd say Adium is for power users, and iChat is for the novice. Those in-between will just have to flip a coin. :)
2003-03-20 10:07:21
Adium is better
The only better thing about ichat is the integration into the OS - the item in the menubar. I have to admit I kinda like the sounds and the way it works too.

but Adium is amazing - built-in logging and log searching, tabbed windows for chat, very sturdy...

the only place I think Adium is a little clunky is in adding new users, where it's a bit more difficult to do than with iChat.

thanks! (please give me the book.)


2003-03-20 11:27:09
what's Adium?
I've never heard of Adium, and I read a fair amount of Mac publications and articles. Is it new, or just under-advertised?

I've used iChat a few times. Seems to work fine and is well integrated with OS X. No complaints.

2003-03-20 13:27:56
Adium & iChat
Adium is more refined and iChat is gooey, if I had to choose one or the other technically I would choose Adium.

However, since iChat has the menubar and is there BEFORE the launch of iChat - I find myself using it instead!

Deliberate chats goto Adium, casual chats goto iChat.

2003-03-21 04:11:12
iChat wins for me
OK, on specific things:

UI: matter of choice. Adium has the tabbed chat window, and a sensible sized box to enter text in (we're not all monosyllabic teenagers). iChat has photo icons -- Adium might have this facility, but if so it's way down in the cruft and bloat.

Stability: I've not had any trouble with either.

Features (lack or bloat): iChat is basic but has filesharing, and is also well integrated with other iApps. In Mail, you can see who's online, which is handy if a chat would clear up the query faster than exchange of email. I particularly like being able to drag the favicon from a webpage in Safari into an iChat window to provide a link. iChat has file transfer. It makes it very easy to associate an AIM name with a person's real name -- so when I open my buddy list, I see a list of my friends' actual names along with their photos. So, it doesn't have huge numbers of features, but the ones it has are dead useful.

Adium has loads of tweaks, but doesn't appear to have a lot of features. It doesn't store buddies online, which is a bit of a non-starter. I couldn't quickly work out how to associate people's real names with their AIM IDs. Like many AIM clients, it doesn't recognise names as well formed AIM IDs.

Hackability: Adium has loads of tweaks, if that's what you like. Some of its default settings are stupid (horrid squawky noise when you *send* a message, for example). And some of the hackability is just cruft. There's no point having a choice of a dozen different icons, all butt-ugly, for example.

Pleasure of use: prefer iChat hands down, but would like a bigger entry window.

and which one you'll use hence forth: iChat; plus it can only get better.

2003-03-28 08:04:49
Adium not good
Before iChat, I used It has some really good features that distinguish it from AOL's IM client. Things like encryption of chats, real-time language translation, and support for other IM services. I stopped using it with 10.2 because iChat was so well-integrated into the OS.

I downloaded Adium after reading this article. I'm very disappointed. It does not support firewalls at all, so I cannot use it at work. The interface is simplistic and not very nice (Fire and iChat are both much nicer). There are really no features that distinguish it.

If I were to drop iChat, it would be to go back to Fire.

2003-05-13 07:15:05
iChat icons....why I use Adium
how did you uninstall ichat?
2003-06-01 19:04:45
Fire seems to be a bit unstable at times, but I've used it for more than a year now and I can't really see a whole lot that it does that iChat doesn't do.

On the other hand, I can't make iChat send a file to a buddy without crashing either.

6 of 1, half dozen of the other.

2003-08-19 18:55:30
hey, it works
it works, much like
2003-11-28 00:00:32
iChat icons....why I use Adium
Have you ever tried Proteus?
2007-08-02 13:13:27
you can't do video chat on adium, you can on ichat. also talking with multiple people on ichat isn't a big deal because you can toggle windows using apple and the button next to 1.
2008-04-22 19:21:17
Definitly go with iChat. I'm pretty sure it works on linux and Mac OS X. It matters a little though because it matters who you will be talking to. iChat is much more for social reasons and has a sleek design while Adium gets straight to the point business stuff.
2008-07-01 19:07:44
I used iChat until my friend recommended Adium, and when I tried that, I liked it better than iChat. So I laid the program to rest for a bit, but then realized that iChat was a heck of a lot better.

First off, Adium is fully customizable, whereas iChat, alone, is not. Chatting with multiple people is easier than ever with Adium, since you can switch from conversation to conversation very easily. iChat has a box for each IM conversation, which does make it very inconvenient to talk with more than a few people. But the main problem with Adium is the bugs that it has. There are a lot, for example, logging in is sometimes slow or might take a few tries if you have a lot of buddies, and sending/receiving files sometimes doesn't work, especially on AIM.

So I reverted back to iChat, and installed Chax, which solves the iChat-isn't-customizable problem. It's slightly disappointing that I can't edit the contact list completely, but overall, it's quite alright.