In last few years, everyone has seemingly ditched the typical instant messengers like AIM and ICQ for Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and plain-old text messages. And while person-to-person instant messaging is something we all do on our phones now, desktop clients are far from dead. In fact, they’re currently enjoying something of a renaissance.
With so many choices available at your fingertips, which chat app or apps should you be using? That depends on your needs. Are you working with teams? Do you want to chat with other gamers while playing online? We cover four of the best chat clients you can use across multiple platforms.
For teams, Slack is the de facto king for now, and for good reason: The software is slick, feature-rich, and pretty much ubiquitous. These days, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a business using Slack. It’s everywhere, not because it’s the default team chat application for many businesses and organizations, but because it’s simply the best on the planet.
Why? The interface is clean, stylish, and straightforward. You have your channels on the left, your direct messages directly below. You also have Slackbot, which essentially amounts to Siri and Alexa’s less-helpful cousin. You can have Slackbot set reminders, and you can even customize it to respond to certain commands.
With dozens of integrations — including support for a host of other productivity suites — Slack works well with just about every service out there, and businesses can further customize it to fit their needs.
Plus, it’s free. There are also no ads or limits on how many users you can have. There are paid plans, and they provide a more robust experience and added storage space, but most users can get by with the free version. Need another reason why Slack is the best team chat app on the market today? It runs on Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Linux in various flavors — even directly in your web browser — without any major variations between platforms.
If Slack is the best choice for the workplace, then Discord is the best solution for gamers. Discord provides a feature set that should be familiar to Slack users, or anyone who’s been a member of a guild in World of Warcraft.
Discord is less formal than other chat apps, which is refreshing since the current market is very business-oriented. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful. Featuring robust chat support and a built-in Streamer-mode, this is a finely-crafted application that puts apps like Skype to shame. Unlike other popular chat apps, you only need to create one username from which you can join multiple different “servers” at a time. No need to create a work login, or a personal login — it’s the same one used across the entire platform.
Once you create or join a server, you can set up individual channels for specific topics, and even join each one like a no-fuss conference call. It’s reliable, attractive, and well-designed. Best of all, it just works.
With Discord, you can also turn off your mic if you’re not in the mood to talk, or just jump right into a real “chat room”-style conversation with just the touch of a button. Simple, easy, and reliable. It’s also worth noting that Discord also features apps on every major platform, including Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and even Linux.
If you’re looking for a straight-up one-on-one chat without all the servers and chat rooms, WhatsApp is a great solution. The client is tied directly to your phone, meaning you’ll need an active phone number to create an account. It serves as a replacement for your phone’s current text messaging client, but it doesn’t send messages through your wireless carrier’s SMS system. Instead, WhatsApp delivers messages using end-to-end encryption over your cellular or Wi-Fi internet connection.
Like any other SMS messenger, you can start a chat with a single individual or a group. But what’s interesting with this service is that you can broadcast your current status to all contacts. For instance, if you’re hiking in the mountains and come across a bear feasting on another hiker, you can take a quick snapshot and instantly broadcast your current distressful situation to everyone on your list for the next 24 hours.
But WhatsApp isn’t all about texting. The platform provides a free telephony service no matter where you’re located across the globe. You can communicate the old-fashioned way though voice-based calls or conduct a video chat when you need to see a pretty (or ugly) face. Like the texting aspect, all voice and video calls travel across the internet rather than through your mobile carrier.
Overall, WhatsApp is a great, slick communication platform for those worried about their mobile carrier stashing text messages, photos, and videos. There’s plenty to love, and the platform even provides desktop apps that synchronize with the installed mobile app so you’re not constantly picking up your phone. End-to-end encryption also means your communications stay out of the wrong hands, making it a great chat tool for parents and their children.
If you’re on Windows 10, chances are Skype is already installed on your PC. This chat client originally made its debut as stand-alone desktop software for Windows in August 2003, but the platform was eventually scooped up by Microsoft and turned into a Windows-centric communication tool used by businesses and individuals alike. It’s now served up in desktop and app flavors across seven major platforms.
While WhatsApp puts the smartphone first and the desktop second as a paired “receiver,” Skype doesn’t take that route. Instead, you get full-fledged Skype apps across all platforms that synchronize your conversations via Microsoft’s cloud. Consider Skype as Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iMessages service — only Skype isn’t locked to just Microsoft’s operating system.
Similar to WhatsApp, you can text individuals or participate in group conversations. Skype doesn’t require a phone number but instead links to your Microsoft Account. That said, your messages are sent through cellular and Wi-Fi internet connections instead of relying on a wireless carrier’s SMS service. And like WhatsApp, you can throw pictures, videos, your location, and other files and media into your conversations.
In addition to messaging, Skype is known for providing voice and video calling, too. You can do this in two ways: call someone for free who also has Skype installed, or call/text a specific land or mobile phone number using Skype Credit starting at $3 per month. If no one answers on the other end, you can leave an audio or video message.
Of the two mainstream clients, Skype may be a better choice if you don’t mind Microsoft’s attachment. The Windows 10 app has made significant progress since its launch while the “classic” desktop versions are somewhat “old school” compared to the mobile apps. But if you’re looking for a chat tool that covers multiple platforms in desktop and app variants — even the Xbox One — Skype is definitely your best bet.