Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Beginner's Guide to Miranda Instant Messager

This post is about the multi-IM client Miranda. This is a very light-weight instant messaging client that can connect to a multitude of networks, offering a lot of features by means of plugins (think FireFox and its Extensions). I've been using it for a few years now and I am very satisfied with it. The amount of different plugins can be overwhelming for a new user, so I've decided to put together a little guide on the essentials.

Default Miranda interface

First off, get the bare client straight off the download page. And when I say bare, I don't really mean that: it includes the Miranda client itself, and plugins to get online with AIM, ICQ, MSN, IRC, Jabber/GoogleTalk and Yahoo. (A note on GoogleTalk on Miranda.) It also has a plugin to import contacts and history from ICQ. It should look something like the screenshot to the right when you first run it (though probably with more contacts in less groups). Skip ahead to the bottom of this post to see what my contact list looked like after everything was installed and configured.

The Options dialog is very, very complete - especially when you enable 'Show expert options'. You'll want to start at the Networks section, to fill out your account details for all IM networks you have an account on. The 'Status' menu in the main window allows you to set the status for each IM protocol independently, or all at once.

Now I know you're going to ask yourself: 'Is this it? A completely boring contact list with some icons?' and I know it looks pretty bland like this. Luckily, we can fix that! There are plugins for nearly everything you're used to in the regular IM clients. Installing plugins is really easy: you just grab it off the Addons page, unzip it, drop the dll (or two) in the 'Plugins' folder and restart Miranda. It loads right away and if it has options, it'll add a section to the Options dialog. Occasionally a plugin has a separate dll for icons, a smiley pack or documentation, which you can drop in folders 'Icons', 'Smileys' and 'Docs', respectively. Usually the Readme file included in the zip is helpful as well.
If adding a new plugin causes Miranda to start crashing, look for a Unicode version of the plugin (Windows 9x/ME uses ANSI versions, Windows 2000/XP and newer use Unicode versions) or a newer version. If both fail, hop on the Miranda forums, find the discussion thread for the crashing plugin and start reading. Most likely someone has the same problem and posted a solution or a workaround.

Modern Contact List (aka clist_modern)


This is the most dramatic change to your contact list that you will see. Download the Modern Contact List plugin to enable skins on your contact list, user avatars and other fun things. The default skin is pretty snazzy, and you can get even prettier ones from the Miranda website. Customizing an installed skin isn't that hard (Options > Customize > Skin), though you'll probably screw up once or twice trying to figure out what everything does (like me), so make a backup of your database first.

Other plugins that go with clist_modern nicely:
  • Loadavatars and Fingerprint
    Avatar Service (aka Loadavatars)
    This is a general avatar service to complement Miranda's own, which can be used by other plugins. By itself, it makes sure all your contacts' avatars are current and displayed on your contact list.
  • Fingerprint
    This plugin detects what IM client your contacts are using, as well as the client's version. Very cool. This goes together very well with mToolTip, described below.
  • Icon Library Manager (aka icolib)
    Another 'core' plugin that allows you to customize icons for pretty much everything.

tabSRMM


tabSRMM

The standard layout for the sending and receiving messages module (SRMM) is probably what you are used to: one window for each conversation or contact. If you have a lot of conversations at the same time (or just keep them open, like me), this will produce a lot of windows and clutter things up. The Tabbed SRMM plugin groups all conversations in one window, using tabs (again, think FireFox). The keyboard shortcut 'Esc' to close a conversation tab is especially great.

mToolTip


mToolTip

This one is not available on the Miranda website itself, but it's great: it creates a bubble tooltip with useful information when you hover the mouse cursor over someone in your contact list. The plugin itself is just the engine, so it still needs settings to create the tooltip content. It's a bit complex, but well worth the effort: get a mToolTip template from the Miranda website, then get the Database Editor++ to load the .ini file from the template. Detailed instructions on doing this are in the Readme file for the mToolTip preset.

Popup Plus


Popup Plus

Miss the popups that MSN Messenger creates on events like receiving a new email, getting an IM, seeing someone come online? Well, no fear: the Popup Plus plugin is here to save you. It will even notify you of people typing their first message to you (before the conversation window has opened), which is useful as well as good fun ('hey, how'd you know I was going to ask you something?').
This also alerts of you of new email on the protocols that support it.
Popup Plus email notification


SmileyAdd


SmileyAdd

I bet you REALLY miss this in conversations, huh? Well, just get the SmileyAdd plugin and all smileys you type or receive in messages will be converted to pictures. You can select to have each protocol use its own smiley pack, or have all use the same basic one. The only drawback is that MSN Messenger's custom smileys are not supported. (The MSN plugin itself seems to support them from Miranda 0.6.6 and up.)
SmileyAdd
For the MSN protocol, I'm using a smiley pack with the exact same smileys that MSN Messenger has, but unfortunately it's no longer available from the Miranda website: here it is.

Updater


Since Miranda is an open source project, updates will happen often. Very often. The Updater plugin can keep track of this, and if you put it on the most sensitive setting, don't be surprised when you get updates to some plugins several times per day. Put back the 'Update on .. change' setting a notch and you should be fine. The only thing it won't alert you to is new versions of the Miranda core engine itself - so you'll have to check for this periodically. I subscribed to the Miranda blog myself to keep an eye on this.

History++ 2in1


History++

To keep track of your messaging history, there is a default (embedded) plugin that logs all messages. This default is not very good, though - you can't see more than one message at a time and it's 'find' function can be a bit... dyslexic. The History++ plugin has a lot better features and gives you a much better overview. It tracks conversations as well.

Weather


Weather

Very useful if you want to know it the weather's going to be any good this week. It acts as a special protocol plugin, so you can add weather stations all over the world as contacts in your list, then group them together.

MyDetails


MyDetails

MSN Messenger has a frame at the top that shows your current avatar picture, your nick and your status. If you get the MyDetails plugin, Miranda can have this too! The plugin is still in developmental alpha stage, but it works very good. A bit of tweaking with the settings and you'll have it look very much like MSN Messenger. And this plugin works for all the other protocols as well! If they support avatars, you'll see them in the frame as well.

Final result


After I finished installing everything, tweaking my settings and got everything working, my contact list looks like the lower right picture. You can see the progress nicely when I install additional plugins.
Default layout
Default layout
Modern Contact List
Modern Contact List
  
Fingerprint
Fingerprint + Loadavatars
MyDetails
MyDetails


UPDATE: Since the implementation of the MSNP11 protocol for MSN, developers are starting to add features from the new MSN clients to Miranda. Nudge and ListeningTo (alpha stage) are among these. If you have Miranda 0.6 PR 2 or newer, you can add the 'listening to' information to the mTooltip settings. (You won't need the ListeningTo plugin for this.)

Add this to your mTooltip.ini:
[ListeningTo]
DBSub=MSN
DBSet=ListeningTo


Then add this somewhere in the MSN mTooltip setting (Options > mToolTip > Advanced > MSN) to show the info, if it is set by a contact:
%%Media: <b>(8) %user_ListeningTo|%%%%|</b>

ANOTHER UPDATE: Miranda 0.6.6 (in rapid succession to 0.6.5 and 0.6.4) was just released, and if you upgrade from 0.6.3 or earlier you'll find that Miranda can't find your profile anymore. You need to move the profile.dat file, see this thread on the Miranda forums.

4 comments:

The GuRu said...

Great guide!

Just made the jungle of miranda addons a whole lot easier.

Thanks.....

anhdres said...

nice list mate, keep it comin'.

Elan! said...

Great post, thanks.

ammar said...

grat psot p;ug thnx
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