AOL unveils a slim, trim ICQ

If size matters, someone forgot to tell America Online Inc.'s ICQ instant messaging division. This week it is releasing ICQ Lite, a condensed version of its popular IM program with uncharacteristically few features.

ICQ Lite has only 14 core features, a fraction of the 40 functions in ICQ 2002. The newest release bucks the bigger-is-better trend among IM competitors. Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., for example, have been fattening their instant messenger clients with multimedia and enhanced communications add-ons upon each new release.

The short list of ICQ Lite's just-the-basics features includes same-time text messaging, the ability to send and receive text messages on mobile phones, file transfer functions, and access to ICQ's user directory for finding people of like interests. In addition, the program saps less of your system memory when it runs.

"We have put our most popular features in a smaller and simpler package," says Ronen Arad, ICQ product manager. ICQ Lite will not replace full versions like the company's latest, ICQ 2002a. Instead, ICQ Lite is aimed at users unfamiliar with instant messaging. Arad says the small size of the ICQ Lite program will also appeal to advanced ICQ users who appreciate software that doesn't tap too much of a PC's resources.

New Filter Options

ICQ Lite brings some new features to the table, as well. You can now choose to filter out unsolicited messages with an optional ICQ chat filter. And if an inappropriate message sneaks through, you can report the chat spammer to ICQ administrators who will consider adding repeat offenders to a list of users who may be filtered.

The smaller version also adds a typing indicator, which alerts you when the other person is typing. It also supports so-called natural language queries that let you cross-reference the ICQ user directory as easily as typing "poodle owners living in Milwaukee."

Only Windows systems can run ICQ Lite. You can run both the Lite version and the full ICQ on the same PC without conflict. ICQ Lite will be introduced first in English with additional language support following soon, Arad says.

ICQ Bucks Big Trend

Consistent with the feature reductions, ICQ has trimmed the file size for ICQ Lite to 1.7MB, down from 3.9MB for the full version. The leaner ICQ Lite drains only about 5MB of your PC's system resources when it runs, in contrast to the full version's 15MB requirement, ICQ says.

The introduction of a leaner ICQ runs contrary to recent offerings from chat competitors Microsoft and Yahoo. In August, for instance, Yahoo introduced Webcam support for Yahoo Messenger. Meanwhile, Microsoft has been building bridges into MSN Messenger that connect to its .Net platform for e-commerce and for collaboration tools like whiteboards.

Analysts say all of the competitors in this niche are trying to distinguish their messaging applications with more features.

A Different Approach

ICQ is clearly taking a different tack, says Michael Gartenberg, a research director at Jupiter Research. Instead of becoming more complicated, ICQ is taking the "Zen approach of simplicity," he says. By keeping things uncomplicated, ICQ is hoping that new users will find ICQ Lite more approachable, he says.

However, it may take more than Zen-like ease of use for ICQ to keep up with the messaging behemoths within the United States. The top spot currently belongs to AOL's AIM service. (AOL and ICQ share the same parent company, AOL Time Warner.) In second place is MSN Messenger, with Yahoo in third, according to the most recent data available from Jupiter.

Those numbers indicate that ICQ is struggling. In 2001 ICQ saw a 13 percent decrease in the number of users of its instant messaging service, from about 9 million to 8 million. However, ICQ instant messaging software remains very popular in Europe and elsewhere outside the United States.

Still, much is at stake in the U.S. chat market, where 48 percent of Internet users have yet to begin swapping instant missives, Gartenberg says. Another quickly growing market for instant messaging is behind company firewalls, where employees are increasingly turning to instant messaging as a business communication tool.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tom Spring

PC World
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?