A little while ago one of my co-workers convinced me to give the Miranda instant messenger a try, and at first I was reluctant because I had heard how much customization was typically needed to get it just the way you wanted it. Over the years I had downloaded it to play around, but it has a rather overwhelming number of options that you can mess with. Then when you throw the addons into the mix the complexity continues to rise.
I took his recommendation (and dedication) to heart, and decided to give Miranda a real shot. I spent a few hours downloading addons, trying out themes, adjusting fonts, and tweaked the messenger until I got everything pixel perfect in my eyes. The end result is what you see to the right.
I have over a hundred contacts that I manage (most are cropped out of the screenshot), and so I wanted something that was compact to maximize the number of visible contacts. Miranda is perfect in this respect because of how customizable the interface is regardless of what theme you choose.
The best part? Even though memory is plentiful these days I’m always happy to find applications that can efficiently do their job. On average I’d say my Miranda instance runs around at around 9MB of memory (fluctuating between 6MB and 13MB depending on how many conversations I have open). It doesn’t get much more efficient than that.
If you decide that you want to give Miranda a try hopefully this article will serve as a good starting point for getting things customized the way you want them.
–Installing Addons or Themes–
For installing addons or themes what you’ll need to do is download them from the Miranda site, extract the files, and place them in the correct directories. These directories are located inside the folder where you installed Miranda, and in most cases that should be here:
C:\Program Files\Miranda IM\Plugins
C:\Program Files\Miranda IM\Skins
Place the files in those locations, and you may need to restart Miranda before you see the changes.
–The Contact List–
The contact list is one of the most important areas for me because I have so much data that I’m trying to cram into a small space. Before I dive into some of the more detailed customizations I made lets take a look at the addons that you’ll need:
- Modern Contact List: This is an addon that will make the contact list even more customizable. Many themes use this, and therefore won’t work properly if you don’t have it installed. If you’re running this addon on Vista or Windows 7 it also adds support for the Aero glass effect to Miranda.
Note: After installing Modern Contact List you may find that it’s not enabled immediately after restarting Miranda. You’ll need to go into the Options -> Plugins, and disable clist_classic.dll so that you can enable clist_modern.dll. It’s not possible to have both enabled at the same time.
- Tipper: This provides you with some information about the contact that you’re hovering over in the contact list. You can see things like the last message they sent, their status message, IP address, and much more. The screenshot above is of Tipper.
- Szandor Vista: This is the theme I’m using for my contact list. It took me a little while to find one that looked good with the customizations I wanted, but this one seemed to suit me the best. If you don’t like dark themes you’ll probably want to check out some of the others, but I tried about two dozen different ones before coming across this gem.
Alright, now that you’ve got those installed here are some of the more detailed customizations I made:
- Color-code names to match contact’s availability status. I don’t like relying solely on an icon to tell me the status of one of my contacts, and with Miranda I can customize the color of the name for contacts who are available, away, do not disturb (DND), offline, and more. This makes it more clear as to who’s actually available and who’s not. To do this go to Options -> Customize -> Fonts & Colors -> Contact List -> Contact names:
- Compact the view. I don’t need things like avatars shown for my friends, and so I hide them. Go through the settings available at Options -> Contact List -> Row Items to pick and choose what information is shown for each contact in your list. Status messages are kind of important to me so I’ve enabled those, but you’ll find that you can customize everything down to borders and margins around each row.
- If you click on the parent section (Options -> Contact List) there are also more settings that you can customize for the overall contact list. One setting in particular that I like is under the List tab that lets you hide the vertical scrollbar. How do you scroll through your contacts then? With your mouse wheel! I’ve never missed not having the scrollbar in my contact list.
- Customize the tooltips. You installed Tipper so that you can see information about your contacts when you hover over them in your list, but now you need to make it look the way you want. There are a lot of options available for you in Options -> Customize -> Tooltips that give you full control over the layout.
There are quite a few other changes that I’ve made, but the rest are really just minor details. The things I outlined will make your contact list look pretty close to mine.
–The Chat Window–
You’ll probably get a kick out of this. For years now things have been moving to tabbed interfaces to conserve space, and messengers have been following a similar route. Miranda, however, doesn’t have tabs out-of-the-box. Instead you need an addon such as TabSRMM to add that kind of functionality. That’s not the funny part though. For the first few days with Miranda I decided to go without tabs though, and I don’t know if I could go back to a tabbed interface now. There’s something nice about having each contact isolated in their own windows. Here I thought tabs were great for everything, but I was wrong. Funny, huh? You do have options available if you decide to go the tabbed route.
There are a few customizations that I’ve made though:
- Color-code incoming/outgoing messages. Frankly I don’t really need to see the messages I write most of the time… after all, I wrote them. Sometimes it’s nice to go back and reference what I’ve written, but I want to quickly identify messages that the person I’m chatting with has sent. That’s why, as you can see in the screenshot of the chat window above, I’ve grayed out my messages. I also made the font bold for the person I’m talking with. These things can be customized by going to Options -> Fonts & Colors -> Message Log, and look for the settings labeled incoming messages and outgoing messages.
- Display last [XX] messages when opening a chat window. Sometimes you close a chat window before ending a conversation, and then you can’t remember what you were just talking about. In Miranda you can pick how many messages you want displayed when a chat window is opened. You can specify whether you want the last [XX] messages, or whether you want to show messages from the last [XX] minutes. That way you’ll always be able to pick up on your last conversation without any troubles. To adjust these settings go to Options -> Message Sessions, and click the Messaging Log tab.
My chat windows accomplish the goal that I set out to achieve, and that’s to focus on the messages being sent back and forth. I didn’t want toolbars upon toolbars of buttons, formatting options, and animations that I could send. I wanted a box I could type in, and a box I could see the messages I receive. In fact I removed all available toolbars from both the contact list and chat windows for this very reason. Messengers these days have too many distractions, and I had used the Google Talk client for such a long time because it brought simplicity back to the messenger world.
I know Miranda isn’t going to be for everyone, but I wanted to make sure people know what alternatives there are out there. This seemed especially important with the recent Digsby events, and the excellent Miranda community will surely try to help answer any questions you may have.
Interested in integration with other services like Twitter and Facebook? There are developers working on it, and you can jump in to test if you’d like. The Twitter project can be found here , and the Facebook project is here. See, Miranda has a very powerful community backing them, but it’s just that all this functionality doesn’t come bundled with the app. You have to go looking for some things, and in the end it can prove to be worthwhile.
If you use Miranda, or find some cool addons please let me know in the comments! I would still love to try out anything else you guys may find on your quest for a better messenger.