The Internet has had a huge effect on the way we communicate with friends, family and co-workers. Giving out your e-mail address has become as commonplace as giving a phone number. While e-mail is considered to be the staple on online communicating, instant messaging is also common as it allows for real-time (i.e, immediate) contact with others.
To use IM to chat with others online you first need to decide which of the available free public services you want to use. You download the messaging client and sign-up for the service by creating a username and password. Once you have done that, you will then be able to communicate with others using the service. IM clients allow you to add users to a contact list, also called a buddy list. Once a user has been added to your contact list, you are then able to see that person’s status, or presence that is, whether they are online and available to chat, online but currently away from their computer, or offline. You can then initiate a real-timeconversation with the person who is online. Depending on the service you use, this could be a text-based instant message, a text-based chat session,or voice chat session. Some services allow you to send a text message to a person who is not online. In this case the user will receive the message the next time he or she logs on. Most public IM services also allow you to send files, sounds, images and Web links to users on your contact lists through the IM client.
Many IM clients will allow you to communicate only with users on the same network. However, there are alternative clients that you can use to enable cross-platform communications. Here is a list of the most popular public instant messaging networks and clients being used today:
ICQ was the first free public IM system and launched in 1996 by Mirabilis, which was acquired by America Online (AOL) in 1998. ICQ says its application has been downloaded over 370,000,000 times and that 400,000 million messages are sent each day through the system. Some of the current instant messaging clients offered by ICQ include ICQ 5.1, ICQ2Go!, ICQ Pro 2003b, ICQ Wireless, and ICQ for Mac.
Hot on the heels of ICQ , in 1997 AOL followed up with its own instant messaging service called AIM, which now boasts more than 53 million active registered users. AIM is an advertising supported platform, meaning its users will often see ads displayed while using the client. AIM supports file-sharing, buddy lists, RSS feeds, the capability to send messages to users who are offline, a universal address book, AIM pages, AIM bots, a customizable interface, AIM plug-ins, and other features. Current AIM clients include AIM 6.1, Pro, AIM express, AIM Triton, as well as an assortment of beta clients.
Windows Live Messenger
Previously called MSN Messenger, Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger (WLM) is also an advertisement supported IM service. It currently has more than 27 million active registered users worldwide. WLM offers file sharing, PC-to-PC calling, time-stamped messages, offline notifications and other features. In 2006, Microsoft and Yahoo announced an interoperabilityagreement which would allow users on either system to communicate with each other. The current release version is Windows Live Messenger 8.1, and there is also a mobile version available.
In 1998 Yahoo launched its IM service under the name of Pager. With its 22 million users Yahoo Messenger is also an advertisement-supported IM service. Users are required to have a Yahoo ID, which also enables you to use other Yahoo services. Features of Yahoo Messenger include PC-to-Phone calling, PC-to-PC calling, plug-ins, voicemail, file sharing, webcams, and chat rooms, client customization, and avatars. It recently incorporated Yahoo Mail into its IM service. The current version is 8.1 and supports interoperability with Windows Live Messenger.
Created by Cerulean Studios and released in 2001, Trillian is an IM client that connects users of other IM services such as AIM, Windows Live Messenger, Jabber, Skype and more. If you have different friends on different networks, you can use Trillian to manage your various IM accounts. When you log in to Trillian, users on proprietary systems will see you as being online in each of those systems. Trillian uses a color-code system to indicate which service you are receiving messages through. Features of Trillian include Emotiblips, skins and customizable interfaces, plug-ins, and more. There are free and commercial versions of Trillian available. The current versions are Trillian 3 and Trillian Pro 3.
Gaim is a Linux, BSD, MacOS X and Windows multi-IM client that works similar to Trillian. It currently supports AIM, ICQ Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Jabber, and others. With a Gaim account you can access your multiple IM network accounts simultaneously. Current features include file transfer, away messages, notifications, buddy sounds, spell checking, tabbed conversations, and more. The current version of Gaim is 1.50 (2.0 beta).
Jabber is an open system that uses the XMPPprotocol, which allows anyone to run his or her own Jabber server to talk to users on other systems. According to Jabber more than 10 million people use their system. Jabber incorporates a technology called transports that allows its users to access other IM networks, without needing the other network’s client. There are many clients available using the Jabber / XMPP protocol, including; Freetalk, Gnome Jabber, Mango, Spark, Google Talk, Soapbox Communicator, Miranda IM and more.
Meebo is a popular Web-based IM system that lets you log into different IM networks from any computer with a browser and Internet connection. Based on AJAXtechnology, it works like a desktop application within your browser. Because Meebo is browser-based, it requires no download to use. Meebo supports AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Jabber, ICQ, Google talk, and MSN Messenger. Meebo also offers a service called “meebome” that lets users create a chat widget for your own Web page. Users to your Web site will appear as a buddy on your chat list.