iChat: Combine AIM and Google Talk Buddy Lists

by Matt

A decade ago, AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ were at the top of the chat world. ICQ died a rather quick death (despite its continued existence), but AIM continues to be popular. Over the last few years, Google’s dominance of web mail has allowed the company to make inroads in instant messaging, as well. Millions of people depend both on AIM and Google Talk every day, which is one reason why Google now allows you to combine your Google Talk and AIM list while you’re logged into web mail or using the Google Talk application on Windows.

On the Mac, there are plenty of alternative chat applications, most notably Adium. With Adium, you can simultaneously use any number of chat services and combine all of their buddy lists into a single, uberlist. So why not use Adium instead of iChat? Well, while you can chat and perform file transfers, you cannot do video chats, audio chats, or screen sharing. In addition, depending on your point of view, the interface is either beautiful or ugly (which can also depend on how much you’re willing to configure it). Let me be clear: I think Adium is a wonderful program, but so is iChat.

In order to combine Google Talk and AIM buddy lists into one in iChat, you need to download a free add-on called Chax. Not only will chax let you combine your buddy lists, but the application’s website lists a number of features the application adds to iChat:

  • Unified contact list shows all contacts from all accounts in one window
  • Growl notifications for new messages and users changing status
  • Automatically resize the contact list to fit the number of visible users
  • Built-in log viewer
  • Activity log that displays your contacts’ status changes
  • Auto-accept file transfers, AV chats, and screen sharing requests
  • Toggle text status visibility of users
  • Always on top option for contact list, message windows and AV chats
  • Set font of names, status messages, and group separators
  • Option to auto-accept text chats, skipping new message notification window
  • Show status changes directly in the message window
  • Additional unread message notifications in the Dock
  • Automatically go away when the screen saver activates
  • Properly use ICQ accounts without sending text formatting in messages

Setting up Chax

  1. Once you download Chax, you simply run the installer and then open up iChat.
  2. Once iChat is open, you select Preferences from the iChat menu. Now look at this image to see what we’re focusing on in preferences:
  3. As you can see, if you have successfully installed Chax, you will have a Chax tab on your preferences window. Click this tab to bring up the Chax options.
  4. Chax has many options you can set, many of which are self explanatory but which will not be discussed here (I suggest you read the Chax help for more information). We are focused on the two options that have been circled.
  5. The first selected check box says, “Automatically resize the contact list to fit.” What this means is that Chax will automatically make the iChat window no larger than is necessary to view all of your contacts who are online and no smaller than is necessary (if you have more contacts online than will fit on your screen, Chax will resize the window to be the full height of your screen and then add a scroll bar). This feature allows iChat to mimic every other chat application out there so that your buddy list window size is optimized.
  6. The second selected check box reads, “Use All Contacts window as primary contact list.” What this means is that Chax will create its own buddy list window called “All Contacts.” This window will hold ALL of your buddies — those from AIM, Jabber, Google Talk, and Bonjour. Normally, you can go to the “Window” menu and select “AIM Buddy List” and/or “Jabber List” in order to get two buddy list windows. Now, you can go to the window list and just select “All Buddies” to get a single window with all of your buddies:
  7. If you have any other buddy list windows open, feel free to close them. You’re done!

Did you find this tip helpful? Do you have a better way of accomplishing the same thing? Think Mac users should simply ditch iChat? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marc-Andre January 7, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Hey Matt,

what about video chatting with a hotmail account like msn? I searched and found aMSN but have yet to try it and would of liked to use iChat instead…let me know!

2 Matt January 7, 2009 at 12:18 pm

My understanding is that, as of this moment, aMSN is your only choice for video chats using hotmail accounts. You definitely cannot use iChat for that function. To use iChat video, you must use AIM or Jabber/Google Talk.

Best of luck,


3 Shaneka February 12, 2009 at 11:05 am

Hi Matt,

Whenever I try to video chat in iChat with someone using gchat or AIM it doesn’t work. Do they have to use iChat as well?

4 Matt February 13, 2009 at 2:00 pm


I would need more information than you have given me to help solve the problem (but I probably can’t without being in front your computer), but here are the general rules:

- If both people are using iChat and the video icon appears next to the person’s name, you should be able to video chat regardless of the chat service used.
- If one person is not on iChat, video chatting will only work with that person if he or she is running the newest version of AIM for Windows (if he/she hasn’t downloaded a new version in 2-3 years, it won’t work).
-As far as I know, iChat will not video chat with someone running Google Talk or Adium/MSN/Yahoo!, even if you have set up Jabber on iChat to properly see them.

5 Shaneka February 13, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Thanks Matt, that helps!!

6 sarah September 23, 2010 at 9:25 am

This was fantastic, it was exactly what i was looking for!

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