Handle all of your messages in one place

Instant messaging is an increasingly competitive market and despite your best efforts to keep it simple and use a single app or platform, it’s hard to avoid keeping two or three apps around to keep in touch with different groups of people. In any given day I get hundreds of notifications from HipChat, WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype, Slack, Workspace (Facebook) and our business’ Facebook Page.

While most of these clients are mobile-first nowadays, thankfully for my sake all offer some form of desktop counterpart — either a full blown native client or a web based one — so I can reply faster and more comfortably using an actual keyboard. However that doesn’t make switching between different app windows and browser tabs throughout the day any less annoying.

If this sounds familiar, there are a handful of all in one messaging clients that can save you the trouble by keeping all your chats under one roof, and best of all they are cross-platform. The concept isn’t new — remember Trillian, anyone? — but updated for today’s mobile messaging world.

Franz

I’ll tell you right away all three options we’re covering today work similarly as they are essentially wrappers for the web versions of all the supported messaging apps. But Franz is still my favorite of the bunch. It feels polished, fast and is presented in a clean, no-frills interface.

It covers a wide range of services, among them Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, Telegram, WeChat, Skype, HipChat, Google Hangouts, GroupMe, Steam Chat, and more. As of writing there are 34 different services in total and development is active so new ones are added regularly. The latest update introduced support for email (Gmail, Inbox by Gmail, and Outlook), Twitter’s TweetDeck client and custom HipChat servers for companies that prefer self-hosted solutions.

Moreover, Franz allows you to add each service many times, which is useful if you manage multiple business and private accounts at the same time. It’s available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Rambox

Rambox is an open source alternative to Franz that works pretty much the same but covers a lot more services — 74 and counting at the time of publishing this piece — and adds a few bells and whistles of its own. Each service you add is listed in its own tab in the Rambox interface, with notifications handled individually for each service and the option to mute all by enabling Do Not Disturb mode.

Like Franz, you can add each service many times, but a key feature that differentiates Rambox is the ability to add a custom service in case you are using an obscure or niche app that isn’t already listed. As long as the service is accessible via URL, which I tested by adding a tab for Chatra.

Other unique features include the ability to lock the app if you’ll be away for a period of time and setup a password for when you come back or when launching the app. If you use Rambox in different computers, you can synchronize your configuration between them, configure it to use a Proxy if your network blocks some services, and add custom behaviors via custom code injection.

Overall it’s a broader and more flexible alternative, though after using it for a few days it didn’t feel as polished as Franz, and I noticed a little lag while switching between clients. Rambox is also available for Windows, Mac, and Linux and since it’s open source you’re always free to check its inner workings.

All-In-One Messenger

If you’d rather have a solution that lives inside the browser then All-in-One Messenger will be more up your alley. It has a more limited list of supported services but not by much, and all the big ones are there. Like its desktop-based counterparts above, you can use as many accounts of the same messenger platform as you want. You can get desktop notifications with one-click reply and mute specific services if you are being distracted by one of them.

If you are a fan of hotkeys All-in-One supports a few, allowing you to quickly toggle between tabs or jump directly into one of them and reordering within the chat interface.

All-in-One is simple, stable, well designed and uses roughly the same amount of resources they would in a browser tab in Chrome. It’s available as a Chrome Web App, and while I prefer a standalone client, it still serves the purpose for keeping all your messaging clients accessible in a single place. It’s also the only of the three that will work on Chrome OS, so there’s that, too. You can download it here.

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Have all of your texts show up on your Mac

The Mac Messages app has long had support for sending and receiving iMessages, and now the latest versions of Messages for OS X support a new feature which allows you to send and receive SMS text messages as well. This basically means that you can talk to someone using an Android, Windows phone, ancient flip phone, with the standard SMS texting protocol right from your Mac Messages app.


Setting up SMS Relay is pretty easy but it requires a particular set of software and hardware requirements to work. First, the Mac must be running OS X 10.10 or newer, Messages must be configured on that Mac, there must be a nearby iPhone with iOS 8.1 or newer using the same iCloud ID as the Mac, and the texting feature must be enabled on the iPhone and confirmed on the Mac through Messages app. That may sound like a lot but it’s really not, basically it requires that you have modern versions of OS X and iOS with the Messaging feature enabled on both. Assuming that you meet the software and hardware requirements just outlined, let’s go ahead and add traditional texting support to the Messages app on the Mac.

Enable SMS Text Message Support in Mac OS X Messages App

You’ll need both the Mac and iPhone handy to finish the setup:

    1. From the Mac, open the Messages app if you haven’t done so already
    2. From the iPhone, open Settings app, go to “Messages” and then go to “Text Message Forwarding”
    3. From the iPhone Text Message settings, locate the name of the Mac you want to enable send/receive SMS Text Message support for and toggle the switch next to the Mac name to the ON position (in this example it’s called Yosemite Air)

Enable SMS Text Messages on a Mac from iOS

    1. From the Mac, wait for a popup to appear that will say something like “To send and receive your iPhone text messages from (phone number) on this Mac, enter the code below on your iPhone”

SMS text relay code

    1. From the iPhone, enter the six digit numerical code shown on the Mac screen exactly, then tap on “Allow”

Confirm SMS texting relay to send and receive text messages from a Mac through the iPhone

  1. The Mac will now verify the iPhone and Mac are authorized to communicate and send SMS texts through one another, and texting support will work in a moment

When finished, you can now both send text messages out from the Mac, and also receive text messages on your Mac in the Messages app. This makes it really easy to communicate with every possible mobile phone user out there right from the desktop of OS X, since SMS is the standard text messaging protocol and supported by quite literally every cellular phone and cell phone provider.

Remember; a blue chat bubble in Messages app indicates the recipient is using iMessage (an iPhone, Mac, iPad, etc), whereas a green bubble indicates the recipient is using SMS Text Messaging (any other cell phone, Android, Windows phone, Blackberry, iPhones without iMessage, an old flip phone, an ancient brick phone, etc).

Do be mindful that text messaging fees vary per provider, whereas iMessage is free, so you probably don’t want to bombard someone with a green bubble with a million and one texts from your computer. And yes, media messages (MMS) will also arrive to the Messages app for Mac, so if your Android phone texts you a picture it will come across to OS X just like any other picture message would, visible in the chat window and then to be found within the Messages attachments folder.

 

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