Instant Messengers for Mac OS X

For years, Mac users have been second rate Net citizens when it comes to instant messengers, as even the Mac version of ICQ (pronounced I-seek-you) - the IM that most Mac users (and PC users for that matter) began with - didn't perform at the same level as the PC version. In the last couple of years, however, the Mac version of ICQ has been beefed up somewhat and now allows Mac users to enjoy almost all of the features that they had previously missed. ICQ sports an active community, numbered in the millions, largely thanks to the integrated functions added to the ICQ client and the various functions added to the ICQ Web site over the years.

Due to ICQ's popularity, other IMs have been released including ones from Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL (the latter has recently become the parent company of ICQ). Until recently, next-generation IMs such as Jabber, Odigo and Trillian, which can connect to a number of differently branded IMs simultaneously from a single interface, had failed to make their way onto the Macintosh platform. Fire (www.epicware.com) is the best all-in-one solution for Mac users being offered at the time of writing and also has the ability to connect to IRC.

The only other real alternative IM for the Mac OS X is AOL's AIM (www.aim.com). The new version of ICQ - like most other IMs such as AIM - allows you to keep your buddy/contact list on a server rather than solely on the hard disk of the computer on which you're using the program. This means that if you're travelling, or switching between using an IM at work and at home, you don't need to worry about having multiple versions of your contact list.

In recent months, AOL has been blocking the ability of users of all-in-one IMs to talk to AIM users but some, such as the developers of Trillian, have made equally aggressive moves to counteract these blocks.

CONFIGURING ICQ 3.0X

I downloaded the beta for ICQ 3.0 for Mac OS X from www.icq.com/mac and, upon completion of download, the installation wizard auto-ran. After moving through the wizard you will soon be presented with three options to suit your status: New ICQ user, Existing ICQ Number and Import Old ICQ Settings (used if you're updating your ICQ version).

When you've selected the appropriate status, you should be able to log on straight away by typing in your ICQ password and clicking Connect.

ICQ defaults to a top-left location on your screen, so you may want to click on the ICQ window heading and drag it to another section of the screen, for example if you have the OS X dock located on the left-hand side.

Clicking the ICQ button at the top left of the program will display links to a wide range of ICQ Web services. The button immediately to the right of the ICQ button is the Preferences button, from where you can elect to use an away message if ICQ detects you've not used the computer for a while.

In Preferences, go to the Sound section listed under Speech. From here you can set ICQ to automatically read out opened messages. You can define the type of voice right down to the pitch and rate of speech. Also under Preferences, under Alert sounds, you can further define individual sounds used for certain events, such as when you receive a message. One thing many ICQ users quickly grow tired of (and subsequently turn off) is the typewriter sound effect that ICQ has on by default as you type a message. You can turn this off under Alert sounds by unchecking "Use Typewriter Effects". Also in Preferences, under Appearance you can change the colour and font type of your chats. Save any changes by clicking Save, then close the Preferences window.

ADD A FRIEND TO YOUR LIST

To add a friend to your list, click the Search/Add Users button. Enter any details that you know about them and click Search. Any matches will come up in a list. Once you've found someone, double-click on the nickname then click Add. Here, you can also choose to give your friend authorisation to add you to their contact list. If the person you've just tried to add to your list has activated request for authorisation, you'll need to enter a reason for your request to add them to your list and click Add again. Click Done then Close to exit the ICQ contact list assistant. Your friend's ICQ name will now be listed in your contact list.

To the right of each ICQ name in your list is a downward-pointing arrow. Clicking on this presents you with a list of options for doing everything from sending an SMS to viewing their personal information (-D) and even seeing a history of your previous chats (-H).

SENDING AND RECEIVING A MESSAGE

To type a message to someone in your list, double-click an ICQ name and type away. The maximum message length is 450 characters. Click Send when you're ready. Click on any ICQ name with a blinking yellow icon to receive a message.

Space doesn't allow for a step-through of some of ICQ's more advanced features, such as Internet telephony and in-built SMS messaging, but www.icq.com/mac goes into both these and other functions in more depth.

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