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3/3/06 What's the best instant messenger?

by Marc Bennett CNET staff/forum admin / March 2, 2006 7:41 AM PST

Hi! I've just retired and have much more time on my hands, so I'm trying something new. I'm fairly new to all this computer and Internet stuff, and I hear a lot about instant messaging as a great way to keep in touch with friends and family and to meet new people. How is this different from e-mail? Is it safe? What are the risks involved in using messaging programs? What are the best ones? Are they all free? If I decide to get one, I'd like to know my options before choosing. Thanks for any advice!

Julie K. of Roanoke, Virginia



Welcome to the wide world of Internet, and its various wonders!

Instant messaging is best thought of as the computer's equivalent of CB radio, albeit done with typing, not voice. Basically, you find a "channel" (sometimes called a room) if you want to do a public chat, or you can watch for friends and initiate private chat with them if they are online.

Let's say you are BigFisherman (your "screenname" or "chat handle"). You logged into the chat network and in your buddy list is WaderLover your fishing buddy. You were browsing the net when the messenger beeped... Your buddy just logged in and your messenger is notifying you as you had set it up to. You want to know how his fishing trip went, so you double click on his name to establish a connection.

Once a connection is established, you get a small window where each person types their own message, and it shows up on both machines. So you end up with something like this:

BigFisherman: So how was your fishing trip today?
WaderLover: Weather's perfect, but the fishies ain't biting
BigFisherman: Really? Must be your lures. What were you trying for?
WaderLover: Trout. I have this custom lure I got from my friend, who...

Well, you get the idea. You type one sentence, they type one sentence, and the result appears almost instantaneously on each other's computer. Thus, instant messaging! If you use mobile phones, it's rather similar to the SMS text messaging on those, except IM is a bit more interactive, as you can see a full conversation going on. It's such fun, that some of the more modern mobile phones can actually do instant messaging, and chat with PCs in near real-time!

As you can imagine, this is quite a bit different from e-mail. E-mail is a bit slower, longer, more... deliberate. E-mails are like letters whereas IM is more like... chat. Clearly, if you know how to type you'll get more out of IM.

Instant messenger programs fall into a few major networks: AOL Instant Messenger (also called AIM), Microsoft IM, and Yahoo! Messenger. They each have their own program and operate their own network, and are not compatible with each other. It's like 3 cell phone companies whose customers cannot call each other if they are using different companies! There are a few independents out there like ICQ (say it like "I seek You") and GoogleChat and others, as well as a few "unified" attempts like GAIM and Trillian. The "unified" attempts operate over multiple networks.

If you've never used IM before, you'll need to choose one of the big camps, download their specific IM program, and register your "handle" or screenname, as AOL calls it. By this time, all the good ones are probably taken, so you'll probably end up with something like BigFisherman3642 or something like that. But be creative (try not to use your name though).

As instant messengers run in the background and you tend to keep them open, they are rapidly gaining in all sorts of abilities, like showing you real-time stock quotes, sports scores, news headlines, and quite a few ads, as well as additional communication abilities like video chat and even ability to place Internet phone calls (separate subscription and or hardware are probably required).

In general, messenger programs are quite safe, as they don't transfer any code, (i.e. program), just text, but some of the messengers let you send files to your friends, and receive them as well. Fortunately, that can be turned off completely. There were supposedly a few IM viruses that exploit the ability to link to certain websites and such, but you can turn those off in the security settings as well. Basically, NEVER click on any URLs and such unless you can trust the referrer. That security tip applies anywhere... on websites, in e-mail, even in IM.

The IM clients are mostly free, especially the single-network ones. The multi-network clients that are still in testing are free, but they may charge later. Also, the messengers may contain additional-cost features like video, Internet phone calls, and so on. Pure chat is free though.

As for which one to use... It really depends on who are you likely to be chatting with and if they are already on a certain network. It doesn't hurt to run multiple IM programs, it just makes your desktop look a bit cluttered. My cousin routinely runs 3 instant messengers together, and holds about 6-7 simultaneous chats with her various friends. The big 3 (AIM, MSNM, and Y!M) are constantly improving their products, and new features are constantly being added and bugs addressed.

I'd advise you to check with your friends and family who are already using an instant messenger and join that network, and keep each other in the "buddy list", so you can just track each other, and try the whole thing out.

Have fun, and again, welcome to the wide world of Internet!

Submitted by: Kasey C. of San Francisco, CA
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by Marc Bennett CNET staff/forum admin / March 2, 2006 7:42 AM PST

Instant messaging differs totally to e-mail. When you send an e-mail to someone it sits at a server waiting for the person to logon and receive their e-mail (kind of like an answer phone), however instant messaging happens instantly (like the telephone). Therefore you and the person you want to talk to need to both be on the internet at the same time to type to each other. If you've used chat rooms instant messaging works in a very similar format, except it's a private room between the two of you. Instant messaging programs will show you who is on-line at the time.

Now for instant messaging you will need an instant messenger client. There are a variety of instant messaging programs. Your choice usually depends on what your other friends use for instant messaging.

The main IM program is MSN as this is built into Windows XP and is installed automatically. (Internet CQ!). ICQ is now owned by AOL Time Warner. ICQ can be obtained from AOL also have another IM program called AIM, AOL Instant Messenger. If you and most of your friends are on AOL for Internet this is probably the best option as it's already built into AOL's software. If you don't have AOL but all your friends do you can download AIM on it's own from Yahoo IM, an instant messenger run by search engine Yahoo!, if you already have a Yahoo! account for Yahoo! groups etc then you can use this with they're IM. this is available from G-Talk - Google have really got a finger in every pie (or at least every internet based pie!), they have their own instant messenger.

ICQ was the first general Instant Messenger, the main problem with this is that your ID on this system is a number that is chosen for you so you have to remember it. ICQ was called this as it was developed by amateur radio enthusiasts and when searching for someone you call CQ

Of course if you have many friends that use many different instant messengers you could always use an all-in-one instant messenger like

Miranda - - Miranda allows you to receive messages from most of the above, and also includes access to IRC (like chat rooms), and has plug-ins to allow checking and notification of e-mail, etc. Miranda is free Trillian - - Trillian is nearly the same as Miranda, except for the plug-ins you need to buy the Pro version.

All the above instant messaging programs above with the exception of Trillian Pro are free.

The risks with using IM messaging programs are like a mixture of using a chat room and e-mail. As with e-mail if anyone sends you files you should always check them before viruses, even if they come from someone you know. Also most IM's are insecure so you should never send any information you don't want the world to know through it, like credit card details, phone numbers, addresses. Like with chat rooms you can invite strangers to talk to you and you can talk to strangers. You must remember though that the person at the other end could be anyone, even if he sends you a picture he could just get a picture from the net. If you meet someone through instant messaging and you decide to meet up ensure you meet up in a safe area like a cafe, and if you're at all unsure take someone else along with you.

If most of your friends are all using the same IM program then it's probably best to only use the same one as them, however if they all use different IM programs you might be better with Miranda or Trillian. The only problem with these all in one programs is that some of the features of the original IM programs will be lost due to Miranda or Trillian not being able to get details from the IM companies, and when new versions of the messaging program are brought out you may find that the all-in-one solution wont work for a few days with that messaging service whilst Miranda or Trillian catch up.

Submitted by: Darren F.



Not all instant messengers are created equally. While all obviously offer the ability to communicate in real time, via typing on the keyboard, some have more features than others.

With all of the webcams and microphones showing up as part of a computer set-up, the majority of instant messenger programs give the user the ability to communicate via voice and also video.

One particular nice (and FREE!) feature of Yahoo Messenger is voicemail storage. You can call anyone else who has Yahoo Messenger with Voice (version 7) and at least a set of speakers. If they have a headset or a microphone, then both of you can communicate in realtime, by talking! This is a completely free call, and you can call anyone else who has Yahoo Messenger.

When talking to people, you can "buzz" them, causing their messenger window to let off a loud ring and shaking their messenger window.

If you miss them or they are offline when you call them, you can leave them a voicemail, which they can check later, again, for free. Yahoo Messenger is very tightly integrated with Yahoo Mail, and informs you of when you receive a new e-mail to your Yahoo Mail. You can also write an e-mail to anyone in your contacts list, as long as you have their e-mail, with but a few clicks.

In addition, Yahoo Instant Messenger will log your conversations, if you so desire.

You can also alias your buddies' names without needing a plug-in. Aliasing allows you change their screenname so you can recognize them by seeing a name or something that reminds you of them, instead of their screenname.

AOL Instant Messenger, more widely known as AIM is one of the most popular instant messaging protocols. Most people prefer the current final version, and not the beta version of the new Triton AIM. One of the best features of AIM is that you can link several screennames together. If you have several different for work, one for personal, one for family, etc., you can link them all together so that you're not limited to only one buddy list.

AIM doesn't really integrate itself into anything in particular. It does show you when you have a new e-mail in your AOL box (you get a free AOL e-mail account when you have an AIM screenname and password).

AIM, being as popular as it is, has had many plug-in's created for it. DeadAIM was very popular, until they disappeared after supporting a previous 5.xxxxx version of AIM. The DeadAIM legacy seemingly "mutated" into AIMutation, which offers all of the popular options in DeadAIM and a few more. With these plug-in's, you can log conversations, tab windows skin your buddy list, create macro's, etc.

MSN Messenger, like Yahoo Messenger, integrates into Hotmail, and your MSN account if you have one. While MSN Messenger is nowhere as popular as AIM or Yahoo Messenger (due to MSN's infamous reputation), it does have some nice features. However, the best feature is it's integration into Hotmail. It allows webcams and voice chat, but it's not widely used, as far as I know and from my experiences. One cute feature of MSN Messenger is the ability to draw on your messages you send. I have had entire conversations with people where I draw my words instead of type them.

MSN Messenger also allows you to "Nudge" someone, which serves the same purpose as Yahoo Messenger's "buzz" feature.

Okay, I've been browsing and scouring the net for the best AIO (that's All In One) IM software. I've actually found quite a few that do a very good job. I'm not gonna go into too mighty of a review, but I will cover a lot of the ones that I found.

First up is SIM. That's Simple Instant Messenger. It's a quite interesting program, really. You can connect to AIM, ICQ, Jabber, LiveJournal, MSN IM and Yahoo IM. The program itself seems is interesting. When you add your SN to it, it will download your buddy list, but won't automatically put you online. That really confused me at first. I didn't play around with it enough to learn all of it, but it wouldn't let me edit my buddy list as easily as the official AIM client. There were three things of note about this particular program.

1) It auto fades. This got on my nerves very fast. If you mouse off of the buddy list, it will fade to almost totally transparent. If you mouse over it, it will slowly fade back in. If you click on it, it will become visible immediately. However, if you let it sit for about 30 seconds, it will actually disappear and you'll have to open it from the tray icon.
2) Any numbers on your buddy list will have little ICQ icons (green flower) next to them. This means that if your buddy list has cellphone numbers in it, they will be have ICQ icons by them. I don't know if it actually registers them as ICQ and tries to connect via ICQ, or if it just has the ICQ icons.
3) You can't edit your buddy list easily. I was testing a couple of
different IM softwares, so I didn't mess around a lot with the settings, but you can't rearrange the buddy list from the buddy list itself.

Second up was IM2. This program could connect to AIM, ICQ, IRC, Yahoo IM and MSN IM. I only connected to AIM to check it out, but what I saw impressed me way more than SIM, but not much. IM2 takes your entire buddy list, alphabetizes it, and sticks it into a folder titled with your SN, and puts that folder into another folder, titled AIM. I can definitely see where this could be helpful, for example, if you need to close off one SN, but want your others open, it can be helpful. Or if you want to find just your Yahoo contacts, you can close all other IM folders and just open up the Yahoo folder. There were a few things I didn't like though, naturally.

1) You can only arrange your buddy list by ascending or descending order. You can't personalize it, it will be in alphabetical order.
2) When I first signed on, it shut me off of my official AIM client. Not sure if that was a fluke, but I noticed it. Didn't sign me off the second time I tried to sign on, but it did the first time.
3) I double-click pretty fast. When I double-click on the tray icon, it doesn't show up. If I click one more time, it shows up. Or if I click twice, slowly. So essentially, I have to either triple click, or
drastically slow my double-click down. That was semi-annoying.

Third up is Miranda IM. I know that many people that swear by it over the other ones in my review. However, even from the start, it just killed me. You can sign onto AIM, ICQ, IRC, Jabber, MSN IM and Yahoo IM with Miranda IM. The one main thing that I enjoyed about this was that you can edit your buddy groups' order, they're not alphabetized, and in fact when you sign on, it downloads it from the server (if chosen in the settings) in the order you set it up with. Here's what I don't like about it.

1) First off, when I sign onto AIM with Miranda IM, I am ALWAYS signed off of AIM on my official client (AIM is one of the only IM's that allow you to
sign in to as many places as you want, all under the same SN). This was so annoying.
2) I can't figure out how to make the people who aren't signed on go to
their own "offline" category. That's kind of annoying because I have over 30 people who are signed off, and it just gets in the way of who is online.
3) When I signed onto AIM, I was signed on, however, I didn't have a buddy list. I had to actually go into Miranda IM's settings, locate the "AIM Contacts" option and tell it to import the contacts next time I logged on. Then I had to log off and relog on in order to get my buddy list. That was very confusing, and very annoying. I believe that you have to do this with the other servers, also.


The next three IM's are IM clients that will allow you to connect to the popular servers, but you have to register (for free) and create a specific account for that client.

Fourth up is Qnext. This immediately ticked me off when I saw that it used some sort of applet to run, and that it takes quite a while to initialize if you close out of the program. I wasn't in the mood to setup an account with them, so I can't say anything about this program.

Fifth up is Instan-t. Again, I wasn't in the mood to setup an account with them, so I can't say anything about this program.

Sixth was CyberMessenger. This was actually misleading on its website.
They said that you had the option to sign on with your CyberMessenger SN or that you could simply sign on with your AIM or MSN IM SN and password. However, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get it to sign me into AIM. It kept asking me to get a CyberMessenger SN before I could sign on.


The next two IM programs are by far the best AIO programs I have located so far.

Seventh was Trillian Pro v3. I haven't used the basic, only the pro. I really liked that I could sign onto AIM, ICQ, MSN IM, Yahoo IM and IRC. I didn't quite understand why it created a profile for my computer, with my Username (for my computer) and my computer's name. I don't know how to communicate through that (because I haven't tried to), but I'm sure it's similar to an IRC/FTP type communication protocol. Seems kind of neat, actually.

I enjoyed that when I signed on, it actually had a category with my mail for my different accounts. Also, the little icons that show which servers you're signed onto turn into envelopes when you get new mail to that specific server SN. Very handy. Also, to the left of each of your contacts' SNs is their avatar, if they have one. I find that pretty neat, as you can easily identify your buddies if you know their avatar. In addition, you can also very easily tell which contacts are on what server, as AIM is orangeish-yellow, ICQ is turquoise, MSN IM is blue, Yahoo IM is red, IRC is a whitish-blue and your personal computer connection is a earthy brownish red.

Along with all its buddy list perks, you can also attach your chat windows to each other. It can be a little confusing when you first start off, but you can detach your IM windows from themselves (actually from their buddy group window) and attach them to another IM window. As a result, this allows for tabbed IM windows. Unfortunately it does not allow for multiple rows of tabbed IM windows, so if you have a bunch of conversations all tabbed to each other, the names will disappear, leaving you to guess who is IM'ing you until you click on that tab.

Trillian also allows you to set all accounts as away with one away message, and in addition, for MSN IM, if you have an away message setup, it will autosend it when someone IMs you (this is possible with MSN, but requires a plug-in).

Also, even when you close the conversation window, you can still easily
review the conversation you've had with anyone, without even needing to look at a log (which Trillian does, also). When you open up an IM to someone you've been having a conversation with (or if they re-IM you), your past conversation will appear, dimmed.

There were a few things that ticked me off, though.

1) It bunched all of my MSN contacts into one folder called MSN. It didn't download my server buddy groups, which kind of annoyed me. It does have an area that it puts all offline contacts into, however, and that's handy in clearing up some clutter on the buddy list.
2) I didn't like how much space it puts in between the names. There is at least 1/3 of an inch between names, and that's with my resolution set at 1280 x 1024. It makes it more necessary to scroll down more than should be needed, because it makes your buddy list unnecessarily taller than need be.
3) Not a big deal, but this just seems to load and initialize slower than the actual clients themselves. Not a big deal though.
4) I personally didn't like the sounds at first, as they sounded too
identical and "soft", but I eventually was able to distinguish the
difference between people signing on/off, sending an IM, etc. However, one plus was that it enabled sounds for MSN IM and Yahoo IM that normally didn't sound (with the official Yahoo and MSN clients, if you have the IM window in focus and you receive a message, no sound will play. Therefore, if you walk away from the computer and have your IM window in focus, you will be unable to tell if you have received any new messages, via audio confirmation. With Trillian, you hear when you get a message, even if the IM window is in focus.)
5) Trillian uses many of the same smileys as the major clients, but it also has additional emoticons. When using these extra emoticons, keep in mind that those not using Trillian will not see the emoticons, but rather the smileys instead.

Eighth on my list was Gaim v1.2.1 (pronounced "game").

I have used this program a lot, actually and was quite fond of it at a time. First off, Gaim has (as far as I've seen) the largest number of servers it can connect to. It is capable of connecting to AIM, ICQ, Yahoo IM, MSN IM, Jabber, IRC, Gadu-Gadu, GroupWise, SILC, and Napster.

When you first sign on, it can be difficult to manage your lists, but with a little patience, this can do a lot. To the left of the SNs, there will be symbols representing which IM client server the SN is attached to. This program, like Trillian, allows for tabbed IM windows, but handles it slightly more eloquently, as the tabs are wide and the full name is always displayed. Although it does not allow for multiple rows of tabs, when you get more tabs than the window is wide, it will put an arrow to the right of your tabs, allowing you to cycle through your tabbed conversations.

Like Gaim, you can set all accounts as away with one away message. There obviously are a few annoying things about Gaim, though.

1) As said above, when you first sign onto Gaim, your buddy lists are kinda hectic. You can move them all around and reorganize them to your liking. You can even make new folders in Gaim and place contacts from different servers into those folders (if you have a friend who has both an AIM SN and a Yahoo IM SN, you can place both of her/his SNs into a folder with her/his name on it).
2) When you add a contact to your list, you will see ALL of your buddy
groups, regardless of which server it's saving onto. (if you add an AIM
buddy, you will still see the Yahoo IM, MSN IM, etc. buddy groups, even if those accounts aren't signed on). This can be quite confusing, especially if your different accounts have buddy groups with similar names.
3) I have personally experienced trouble with my buddy list syncing properly with the server list, due to #2. It can be slightly annoying, but when a problem occurs, it will ask you if you would like to sync the buddy lists.
4) In a few circumstances, I have experienced difficulty logging on to my MSN IM account, thus having to sign in using the official MSN IM client.
5) I didn't like the sounds at first, but I eventually got used to them. Also, see #4 for Trillian above, referring to sounds while the IM window is in focus. Gaim also does this.
6) If you install all the basics, you won't have a smiley set loaded, and therefore, when IM'ing, you will always see emoticons in the windows, and when you click the smileys button, it will say that there are no smileys available. Simply go into the Gaim settings and select the penguin set to load the default smileys for each IM server.
7) Also, it can be annoying that when you close the Gaim buddy list, it
signs you off. What you have to do is to go into Gaim's preferences, go to the plug-ins, and select the "System Tray Icon". You are then able to close your Gaim buddy list and it will stay signed on. You can open your buddy list by double-clicking the system tray icon.


The final two programs I will review are actually plug-in types that enhance your IM clients.

The first is AIMutation. Heard of DeadAIM? Good, well, if you kept up with it, there were two negatives about it. First, you had to pay for it. Second, you couldn't upgrade to the latest AIM client. Well, AIMutation fixes both of these. It's free, and it is currently compatible with the latest version of AIM.

AIMutation only works with the official AIM client. It allows for tabbed IM windows, multiple rows of tabbed IM windows (although when I selected tabbed IM windows, then adjusted the size so it was taller, it hid the area that I was supposed to type in, making it very annoying for me to type messages).

You can skin your buddy list, it supports linked buddy lists, you can color your buddy list's background, you can alias your buddies (give them names instead of seeing their SN), remove the advertisements on the buddy list, remove buttons, clone AIM, log your conversations, enable transparency, prevent new IM windows from stealing focus, override buddy fonts (if your buddy has an annoying font ((color, size, etc.)), you can override it and choose what font you want to see), skin your IM windows and more.

MSN Plus is an add-on for MSN IM that finally brings it up to par with the other IM clients. I don't remember all it can do, but there are two most important and notable features. You can alias (rename) your buddies' names and set an away message that will actually be sent when you receive an IM from a buddy, but you are set as away.


Well, I hope that I've helped you decide on what AIO client you want to use (I personally recommend Trillian, but Gaim uses fewer system resources ((IMO))). I hope (if you use the official AIM or MSN) that I helped you a bit in your IM'ing life. Enjoy!

Submitted by: RM skater



Hey Julie K. Instant messaging is something that has really come into vogue within the past four or five years. Instant messaging is a form of communication that uses a particular program, called a client, that allows you to communicate almost instantaneously with other people with the same program. There are several different ones, but the most popular are AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN/Windows Messenger, ICQ, mIRC, and Trillian. Every one other than Trillian only allows you to communicate with people who have a username on that program(which are free), while Trillian allows one to view and communicate with friends you have in all of those clients combined. However, in order to use Trillian you still have to have a username for each of these previously mentioned programs to be able to use that aspect of Trillian. Basically, if you know you are planning to talk with family and friends on more than one of these IM programs, it?s probably at least a good idea to take a look at Trillian.

As for security, the number of malicious links sent through IM?s waxes and wanes, but for the most part IM clients are fairly secure. One way hackers have been known to take advantage of people?s trust on IM programs is to write it so that it looks like your friend is sending you a link to some website. Unless you are already talking with your friend it?s a good idea not to follow any links that they seem to just up and send you without telling you what it is or why you should take a look at it. BuddyIcons is one that I remember in particular that would do this.

Hope this helps.

Submitted by: Tim H. of Hattiesburg, MS



Hi Julie,

The difference between E-mail and IM(Instant Messaging) are sort of like the difference between using the postal service and using the phone. When you send an e-mail, your letter gets sent through the internet and then lands itself in the receiver?s inbox of their E-mail account. Then, the next time they check their E-mail, they receive the message and read it, and maybe write back.

Instant Messaging is more like a direct conversation over the telephone. Both people are sitting at their computers, and have a normal conversation (just using text instead of speaking, although now, there are some where you can just speak to people(more of that in the later section). As soon as you IM another person, he/she receives the IM and is able to type a reply, which you receive in a matter of milliseconds. It's all very fast. In order to talk to people, instead of using an email address, each person has a screename, which is just a way to identify themselves while Instant Messaging.

About the risks... The main risks in Instant Messaging, is the fact that people can send file/pictures through to you, some of which could contain viruses. Most messaging programs have settings that allow you to decide whether you want a file or not before it is plunked on your hard-drive for this very reason. So make sure you know the person, and know what they are going to send you before accepting a file.

The other problem with Instant Messaging is that the conversations between the two people is not encoded for security. This means that potentially, someone could be listening in on your conversation. For this reason, they advise that you not send secure or personal info like your SSN over IM.

There are many different messaging programs out there, almost all of which are free. I myself use AIM(AOL Instant Messenger). To name a few others:

1. Skype--(this program also allows you to talk over the internet as if you were on a phone for free to anywhere in the world)
2. ICQ
3. Yahoo Instant Messenger
4. MSN Instant Messenger
5. Google has one called Talk(also allows talking as if you were on a phone for free to anywhere)

All of those are good free options (there are lots more I'm sure, but these are some of the most popular ones). Ask the friends you would be Instant Messaging what they have and whether they like it. All in all Instant Messaging is a very fun way to talk to your friends.

Submitted by: Levi



Hi Julie,

To your questions concerning instant messaging and E-mail. Instant messaging is different from E-mail in the sense that Instant messaging is "real-time". What i mean by this is that by the word 'instant' the person you are passing information to has to be online at the time you are sending the info. and this is retrieve almost the moment u send it. How fast the message goes now depends on your internet connection, but the main point is the recipient get the message immediately. E-mail differs to instant messaging in the sense that E-mail is just like posting a letter, but in this case u don?t need a stamp or an envelope. The message is sent electronically. Retrieving the info now depends on when the person is informed about the pending message.

Is it safe? Well, Julie the Internet is still not seen as a very safe avenue for divulging very important info. This is why we need to be wary of the kind of info we send. But all the same it is still the fastest way of passing information that is why it is very important. With a very good policy in place e.g firewall, and anti-virus you are sure of protecting your information and getting it uninterrupted to the recipient.

The best instant messenger is Yahoo and MSN messenger. These are fast and contains many features you will find useful and entertaining. They are also free.

Submitted by: Olamide B.



Dear Julie,

The difference between instant messaging (IM) and email is that IM takes place "live". So that communication takes place while you are both logged on. The advantage is that you communicate your message directly, and don't have to wait for your answer. The disadvantage is that IM can be very interrupting. So, if your friend is writing you from a work place, each time you write back it appears in front of whatever document she is working on. The interface (the design) of IM is also more constraining than email. You will type in one small space provided and when you hit the return button your message is posted. The small space forces a shorter answer which is a new concept if you are accustomed to email. There is an icon that appears which tells you that the other person is writing, so you can sit by an know they are still on and writing.

I would also suggest you look into Blogging. Blogs are created by people who want to discuss a topic. So, just say you are an animal activist, specifically a German Shepard stray dog saver. You can search your topic, find a blog and read about what other people are doing in their neighborhoods. So that if a charitable walk is being organized to raise money for a cause, you can learn how it's done and either join it or learn how to organize one of your own.

I think that blogging is a good way for retired people to explore what's new on the Internet and find people with similar interests. It is a safe environment for exploration.

I hope that helps.

Submitted by: Julia



Lets start off with your first question. Instant messaging is, well, instant. As soon as you type something in the other person can see it. One down side of that is you both have to be on the computer at the same time. On to your second question... It's safe if you use it safely. On most clients you can trasfer files. If you pick to download an unsafe file it's unsafe. most IM clients use virus scanning software when they download files. Again, if you download something, you may get a virus, but you might get something really cool. i personally like Yahoo Messenger with Voice, but if you want to get something more complicated I would choose MSN Messenger. These are both free. If you would like to pay a little you could get Trinton Pro, if not Trinton basic. Both Trinton clients can converse with AIM, Yahoo IM, and MSN IM. One important thing to know is that most clients can only talk to other clients of the same kind. you usually want to pick the client that goes with your e-mail. to find out more and download IM software go to

Submitted by: Kenny M.



Julie, I have been using IM?s now for quite a while and find them very useful and far more interactive than email. I can see when my friends, family and workgroup come online, the conversations are kept private unless I want to invite others to the conversation in a group chat and I don?t have all the interruptions that you get when you join chat rooms. I personally use Trillian because it allows me to communicate with a variety of other chat providers such as AOL, MSN, Yahoo and ICQ. This means that it really doesn?t matter what tool my friends are using, I can communicate with them without having several of the different tools on my computer. Another advantage of chat tools are that you can lock them down pretty well so that you don?t get unwanted content without giving permission. I don?t worry about viruses or malware because I only share with people I know and do not accept anything from anyone that I don?t trust. All in all, instant messaging has saved me a lot of money on my phone bill, lets me be much more interactive with my friends far away and we can share pictures and files, play games and more, none of which is very quick with email.

Submitted by: Jim W.



Julie, I am also retired and have developed a great interest in computers in recent times. Even though I have not tried out instant messaging I have some knowledge of it which I hope you will find interesting. Instant messaging, or IM, is great for communicating with friends in either your own or other countries throughout the world. It differs from email in that you are both online at the same time and you can chat practically for free (you are only paying for being online). To use IM you need to sign up with one of the totally free systems such as AOL Instant Messenger ( or Yahoo! Messenger ( If, for example, you sign up with AOL you can only chat to other people who have also signed up with AOL, similarly with Yahoo! Messenger. To sign up you need to log on to their website and download software called 'IM client'. Once you have this you sign up for an account with the IM system you have selected (totally free). You then pick an ID and, like your email address, you give this to others so they can contact you. Follow instructions in website regarding downloading and installing software, then launch program and enter your ID.

Before you start chatting you have to add somebody as your 'friend' or 'buddy' and then type their ID which you can get by asking them for it by phone or email. Double click on their ID which opens a window where you can type your message. If they are online they will get your message immediately, otherwise they will receive it the next time they sign up.

Hope this will be of some assistance, Julie. Happy chatting!

Best Regards.

Submitted by: Jim G. Galway, Ireland.
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Poor Julie -- - keep it simple, and add as you go
by mis_priss2 / March 3, 2006 1:57 AM PST
In reply to: Honorable mentions

Wow!!!! Overload!!!!! If Julie is anything like those in my Family, my heart goes out to her.

I hooked my parents up on Yahoo, because all of us kids, and the grandkids use Yahoo. It is easy to use, and accessible. 4 generations in one video conference, My parents, cried.

The neices and nephews like talking to us on Yahoo. (and we are safe, and can educate them about safety) Even the little ones send me emoticons to show what they are thinking. It can be alot of fun, and is nice to send a quick message. I can and do send offline messages to my brothers, who pick them up next time they are online.

So my advice is the same as stated before; just ask people you would like to converse with, what they are using. keep it simple, and add as you go.

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For Julie I agree with this because...
by Eskiegirl302 / March 4, 2006 12:48 PM PST

Yahoo is probably the simplest one to become accustomed to when you are first starting. By the way Julie, have you downloaded or tried any instant messenger yet? If not I do not know how new you are to the net, but you will need to keep keep up with your security fairly well.

If you know how to get to yahoo, on the very front page is a search bar. Type yahoo instant messenger in that. Your search page will pop up and it should say yahoo messenger. Click on one of the links and learn about it.

Download it when your ready. Yahoo will tell you all of what you need to know. How to work that messenger. You will find this really easy to start with. Later you will want to look into a chat client, but for now just try to get familiar with it. Good luck.

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Other suggestions from our members
by Marc Bennett CNET staff/forum admin / March 2, 2006 7:42 AM PST

Hi Julie,

Well, IM is safe, but some viruses spread over some IM clients. Be cautious with links that you don't know and trust! Install a good antivirus program ( NOT Norton or Mcafee ) and update it frequently ( or let it do that automatically. Also install a few antispyware programs to fight spyware. A few good programs are:
- Spybot Search & Destroy ( )
- Ad-Aware SE Personal 1.06 ( or )
- SpywareBlaster ( )
- SpywareGuard ( )

Also install a good software ( or hardware ) firewall. A good software firewall is ZoneAlarm Free , which you can download at , just click " Download & Buy" and then click ZoneAlarm ( not Plus , Pro or others , just the ZoneAlarm one , and then click "Download ZoneAlarm Free ). But before you do that , you must turn off Windows Firewall. To do that go to Start , choose Control Panel. In the Control Panel you should see an icon labeled "Windows Firewall". Click on that one and disable the firewall when you want to use ZoneAlarm Free.

Just don't click a link that you don't know or trust. That's good advice. There are numerous IM clients you can choose from. MSN Messenger is the far most popular of those.

Just go to and download the software and install it.

Once you download and install it, all you need to do is get a MSN Hotmail e-mail address. That one is free, so don't worry. To sign up for a MSN Hotmail account, just go to and click the "Sign up" button. Fill out all the data fields on the form and when you are done just click the "Submit" button.
All you have to do is sign on and start chatting. To add people to your list, just give them the MSN Hotmail e-mail address that you just made. When someone adds you to their list, you will get prompted about it. You can either accept it or refuse it.

Other IM clients are: ICQ, Yahoo Messenger and many others. Search the web for those, if you want to install them. I would recommend MSN Messenger, though. I am using MSN Messenger nowadays, but I used to use ICQ as well. ICQ wasn't that good, so I switched back to MSN Messenger only. It's just a matter of personal choice, really.

I hope I helped you with this and wish you luck on the Internet.

Submitted by: pcfreakske2000



Hi Julie,

Instant Messenger is a lot of fun. I have 2 of them. Both are Free. Download MSN Messenger from MSN homepage ( or Yahoo Messenger from Yahoo homepage ( The difference between Instant messenger and email is that with email you have to "Wait" for the person to send you a new email.

Instant Messenger is just that...."instant"....You type a message hit send they see it instantly (you both have to be signed onto messenger) and when they reply you see it instantly.
Also Web Cams are fun too....When your using Instant can see who your typing too.(If they have a Web cam) or they can see you if you have a web cam.

If you have Children or Grand Children you can see them whether they live in Kansas or Japan!.
Also with Instant messenger you can "Talk" if you have a mic. and you can hear them if you have speakers or you can use a Headset.

And yes, you can talk for FREE too.

Hope this helps...

Submitted by: Shirley W.



The question was if Instant Messaging was safe, and is it free. My opinion is, that since I do it all day long with my friends, I think it is safe as long as you know what you are doing. Instant Messengers are free for the most part, like the most popular, MSN Instant Messenger, AIM(AOL Instant Messenger), Yahoo Instant Messenger, or ICQ. I use 3 out of these 4 and they are very good to communicate between friends, especially when they live all over the world. For the meeting new people, you can meet cool new people, like I did most of my friends that I talk to online with. What you need to know is that you cannot trust new people that you meet, because there is a lot of people out there that want to destroy your feelings and make fun of you. For my final word is that Instant Messaging is safe as long as you know what you do and who you talk with.

Submitted by: Greg P.



Dear Julie,

E-mail is just what it says it is, mail. Instant messaging is talking in real-time to someone. As far as being safe, I don't think anything is totally safe. If you have an Anti - virus program and a firewall configured correctly, then you are pretty safe. If you plan to talk to people other than family, I'd say not to give out any private information, you don't know that who you are talking to is really who they say they are. I like the program "ICQ" most of all. Yahoo messaging used to let you talk aloud, like on a phone, but I don't know if it still does. I would recommend ICQ. It is free, and has several different topics to become a part of. So, go ahead and have fun, be safe and it will be fine.

Submitted by: Ruthie



Well, Julie,

It all depends on where the majority of your friends are because for friends on MSN, you need the MSN messenger. If your friends use Yahoo a lot then the Yahoo messenger is your best bet. Then for friends on AOL, you need their messenger.

I use either Trillion or QNext but as both failed on me recently, I haven't bothered because they do tend to let everyone know when you're online or not and lets people contact you that you would rather not hear from. Some are fiddly to set up and some or dead easy but you have to decide which is best for you.

Submitted by: Anne in Hampshire UK



The first rule of computing is don't load your computer with features you may not need. If e-mail gets the job done, then stay with it. If it doesn't, then try instant messaging.
As a new computer user, the questioner is going find out that, most of the time, using your own best judgment is your only guide and that only comes from trial and error. But don't be afraid to take a chance because what is installed can always be uninstalled.

Submitted by: Roy W. of Victoria, British Columbia



Hi Julie,

I too retired six years ago and bought my first computer, spent time self taught with advice from this site and others. I have MSN messaging and most of my friends, so we converse thro the evenings,catching up on news and families.I have aquaintances in the US and converse with them.MSN is safe because you only chat with the people in your address book, your contacts.

Can be downloaded at no cost. I don't get involved with chat sites. With email you have to wait for an answer, maybe days but with the instant messaging you can see on screen that they are replying. add a web cam and you can see the person you are chatting to. It?s a whole new world.
I am now going into digital camera (I?m way behind times) and with the help of this site again hopefully I will be able to make good photos of my holidays and family.

Submitted by: Brenda in the UK



Hi Julie,

There are many programs as MSN messenger and Yahoo, but the best I found so far is This PALTALK program is also a free program, any one can down load and use it. At this moment Paltalk has about a good 40 million users who can create and use a room for free. At times you can see a 3,500 up to 5000 or more rooms open. Now what makes Paltalk so different as MSN or Yahoo?

First of all, you can chat in Paltalk by using the mic and the sound quality is very good. Then of course you can type in the chat rooms and even look at the web cams which have an xtreme fast almost video quality. You can send and receive files or photo's and songs , and meet friends from all over the world .

On Paltalk I can talk to some one in Australia and see him at the webcam at the same time at. Its wonderful to see my uncle in Melbourne while I?m here in the Netherlands , and that all whit a extremely good voice and video quality. and I can tell you, it that save me a lot of phone bills ,not even to mention that on the phone I cant see him , but on Paltalk I can, talk and see him at the same time.

Now some one else can tell you can do the same at MSN. That?s right but here is why PALTALK is so different and for me a lot better!!!!! is run by real people, you can recognize them because they have a red nick name, You will see Host , Palhost , Palhelp ,Paltsupport , Paltech , Paltalk , co-admin and Paltalkadmin ,
Now what do these people do?

Besides the rooms user create , Paltalk that have Help Lobbys and Tech lobbys, also Welcome New Users lobbys and Language Help lobbys.

Now in the Welcome Lobby's you will see a red Host name , these people are there to welcome new users and showe them the way around on Paltalk, Howe to use the mic , how to turn on the cam , and to showe you the way to other rooms on Paltalk , In the Welcome lobby is also a scrolling text which will give you also information about Paltalk.

In the Welcome lobby you will see there are some times 75 up to 150 or more people in there. Now what can you do in such a lobby, People can chat by typing , and use the mic at the same time , playing music or talking , also at the same time look at a web cam , and turn on there own webcam.
In the Welcome New User lobby you will meet people from all over the world,
Which brings us to the Language help lobby's , in the Language help lobbys you will find the Palhost ,these PalHost help users in there OWN language how to set up the mic or webcam or help them on other problems , when I,m talking about there OWN language it means that there are Palhost in almost every language from all over the world ,coming from vietnamese , Chinese, Russian , Dutch , German, French ,Italian , you just think of any language ,most likely you will find them there.

On the Help lobby's you will find the Palhost , PalHelp and Palsupport , these people are also there to help to set up the mic, webcam or other things , they help and give you the best programs to delete any spyware , or free firewall or virus scan programs ,or how to play music and use the mic at the same time ,and type , these help lobby's most of the time are don in the English language , but if anyone comes in and needs help in a different language they contact one of the other reds who can speak that language and to help that person.
Then we get to the Tech Help lobby these are run by PaltalkTech, you will also see the Paltalk Support in there, these reds are highly trained and can help you also whit more like drivers or other problems.

All these Red Helpers are all volunteers which love to be in Paltalk and help other users,

On Paltalk you will also find all kinds of Catgs , Music, meet new friends ,trivia rooms , learning rooms , language rooms , and so on . one special catgs is the Computer High Tech catg. these are special computer help rooms , they help on computer problems for which you normally hang on the phone to a helpdesk for a long time paying a lot of money on phone bills , these people do it for FREE and they are GOOD.

On Paltalk you can also put on a Parental lock preventing the Teens from entering the Adult lobbys . so you can be sure you are kids are save when you use that Parental lock .

You can send Private Message to some one else while you are in the same chat room , or create a Private room or even lock that room so its really private , or create a room for free for every one to enter.

On Paltalk you can even be on Paltalk and also be connected to Yahoo, MSN , ICQ and AOL and send you are friends who are at that moment on one of the other programs a message and chat whit them at the same time.

But you can also get a commerce room , the commerce rooms are green or blue and are paid for , On the commerce rooms you can do commerce Business. Sell you're products . add a link to you're website or store ,so much there can be done.

These rooms are also a lot of times used as a meeting room by managers . saves a lot of traveling.
One of the nice things of Paltalk is also that there are catgs rating ,These are clearly stated so if you want to be in a Christian room , you dont end up in A adult room G rated means for every one to enter, NO foul language in G rated rooms , No sexual content in G or R rated rooms ,

So for me PALTALK IS THE BEST , have a look at it at

See you there.

Submitted by: Dutchy



the first thing you got to do is find the best instants message for you, or as up use trillain best off with basic one which then you can sign up to use all the 3 popular ones called aim, msn messenger and yahoo as well as IRC. once you singed up and you don't have to have a hotmail account to use with msn as I use my ntlworld one, you ask whats the diffence between both messager also know as IM and email, well its bothes send message using email address but its for sending lots of message and keeping in touch as so you can use microphone or a web camera. once you singed up, you might one to make sure you get virus and firewall, as well as spy. I recommend bull as there do a lot better them other main ones and is easily to use, which should help you getting any risk from these programs but you should be ok, as a saying goes we will deal with that we we cross the bridge, which have fun and many programs offer help for you and some as bull offer a live chat so there can really help you.

Submitted by: John



Dear Julie and all,

I cannot say I have THE answer, but I have mine. I would like to recommend SKYPE.

I find SKYPE the best instant messenger vehicle for the simple reason that everything SKYPE sends through cyberspace is encrypted into oblivion!

I have heard scare stories about bugs and nasties picked up in chat rooms, on ICQ, etc. I have not checked out the facts, but one thing is
sure: you can beat the price of SKYPE (which is totally free, even for live phone calls 'puter to 'puter) and it is absolutely user friendly.

I can speak to my daughter in London, the one in Boston, and the one is Israel on SKYPE by phone, while using an instant message chat form simultaneously to one or all 3 (in case their kids are around to overhear something private). And we can all 4 have a conference call or chat!

I used Yahoo before, but the new version messed up my computer and Yahoo mail, so I let it go, even though it was more fun and had more bells and whistles.

My techie and I communicate via Windows Messenger, which is a good, solid program. I like the option of sending files by IM, too!

I actually prefer IM-ing to e-mail when the topic is casual and newsy.
For more thought-out communication, it's back to good old e-mail for me.

BTW, I don't like the latest SKYPE update 2.0 at all! The sound bytes are from hunger. So I went back to the previous version, 1.4.

I hope this helped. Happy IM-ing!

Submitted by: Shira




Regarding a messaging service, I don't think you can go past yahoo messenger. I talk to my daughter in London daily, it always works and you get it from

ICQ found at is also very good, but somehow we always seem to use Yahoo.

They are both user friendly so it is your choice.

Hope this helps.

Submitted by: Helen A.
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The One You All Seem to NOT Know of...
by Nacromancer / March 2, 2006 10:24 PM PST

The one IM Client Service that is totally free, totally secure (guaranteed), and was designed for and used by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)is called "Trilogy EC"
I would never ever use anything other than this application to chat with anyone. All the other IM client software apps have security vulnerabilities for those who wish to cause damage or steal.
Say for instance you and a friend are chatting and your friend saw this really cool picture and wanted to share it with you or a joke, so they send you the file or a link not knowing or realizing that it was created by someone who's soul intended purpose was to steal from people, you open it or navigate to the site from the link they sent and next thing you know you are forced to install an active X control to view the page, you think it is safe and BAM!!!! they got ya. Or a Trojan was linked to a photo your friend sent that once downloaded and opened it connects to a remote server somewhere in the back ground without your knowledge and again, where would you like me to send the flowers?
Trilogy is totally different in so many ways it isn't funny. The premium is filled with a lot more functions. But the free version works just fine for common chatting. No it does not have all the bells and whistles some of the others mentioned has, but then again who wants to send a huge Kiss to a fishing buddy? Unless......? hhmmmm...

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Trilogy messenger program
by Erban / March 4, 2006 11:36 AM PST

I'm impressed with your suggestion and downloaded Trilogy. But how do I go about getting the IP addresses for all of my contacts?

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Trilogy Is Excellent! Get Quick Start Guide!
by eye2fun / March 4, 2006 6:21 PM PST

I haven't been using IM clients for awhile, but I used to use Trilogy in a company I used to work for. I then used their server client to make my own network of friends. It was great and was quite simple to use, plus very secure with none of the crap of the Bulk messenger programs.

I just went to their link you posted and downloaded their client and the Quick Start Guide. Although I don't think this would be the right choice for everyone especially those who are just beginning or have many family members using, lets say AIM, Yahoo IM or MSN IM.

Sadly unless she (the one this forum is for) has friends already using Trilogy or is willing to learn the ground up best way to text message over the net, Trilogy does have it's limitations. If the person is smart and computer savy this can be a great program.

You can meet some very interesting and helpful people with Trilogy. For one, there are next to no shark infested waters here, or punk kids, pranksters, thiefs etc.! These people tend to be more intellectual and intelligent people generally interested in learning new things and keeping safe while still enjoying the internet.

I plan to get reconnected with friends in the IT field I know who used to use Trilogy. Thanks for waking me back up to this Wonderful tool.

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How many people have Trilogy EC?
by OmegaGeek / March 13, 2006 11:05 PM PST

Technical excellence isn't the only measure. You need to choose a client that your intended chat buddies will have. A lot of people don't like having more than one, and it's reasonable to expect that they will have one of the big three. MSN, AIM or Yahoo.

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Instant messaging
by timfox / March 2, 2006 5:53 PM PST

If you're a MacOS X user, try FIRE: Fire is a free Instant Messaging client for Mac OS X. It supports the seven most popular Instant Messaging services. And it works a treat!

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The Best IM
by Elliot Per / March 2, 2006 5:57 PM PST

The bestIM is the one you like best.

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My Favorite, so far..
by tintinet / March 2, 2006 7:50 PM PST
In reply to: The Best IM

Trillian: Cute,nice sounds and graphics, no pop-ups, etc.

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I like Trillian at home on my PC
by baddawgg / December 23, 2006 9:05 AM PST
In reply to: My Favorite, so far..

On my palm PDA I used to like verichat but it has been discontinued. I am trying Causerie but it is not as user friendly

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My vote is: Yahoo
by punit_chahar5773 / March 5, 2006 5:20 AM PST
In reply to: The Best IM

I have to vote for Yahoo because:

1) it has better emoticons
2) allows for OFFLINE messages

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by Ernie White / March 8, 2006 5:07 AM PST
In reply to: My vote is: Yahoo

I myself like yahoo the best. I also have MSN, AIM,ICQ ... I tend to get booted off line on all but yahoo??? I have no idea as to why. yahoo has good webcam features as well as voice. Not that MSN don't but I guess it's because I just like yahoo.

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Go "Unified" !
by JeffPGMT / March 2, 2006 6:13 PM PST

I don't think that you don't have to download the messenger's application to register, and many people who have Yahoo or MS Passports already have IM as an option and for heaven's sake don't run mulitple clients, when one of the ''All in Wonder'' clients like Trillian enables you to have ONE IM window. You will know what service a buddy is on by the color of their icon.

For a first time user, I'd say go simple, these IM clients tend to auto-start and having fewer programs that auto-load the better. Another benefit of not running the standard client application is the absense of all the popup windows and tickers. I use Trillian, the free version and skype for voice. I regularly communicate on AIM, MSN, Yahoo services all in one window with one buddy list.

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going unified...
by bigandybear / March 2, 2006 7:23 PM PST
In reply to: Go "Unified" !

i've got friends on all networks, and i agree with you - go unified.

some of these programmes, however, are dire.

i moved to the Mac platform completely (finally ditched my forever-crashing xp box) a few weeks ago, and have moved to Adium (, which is fantastic.

i know that c|net, as a whole, is pretty much a "windows fanboy club" ;-), but if there are any mac users reading this, try it.

you won't regret it.

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by libkitty / March 3, 2006 8:35 AM PST
In reply to: going unified...

I've not used Trillium, but have been very pleased with GAIM. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles, but it is stable and works well for chat.

One thing that wasn't mentioned in the winning response is that the AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo products are all miserable to uninstall from your computer. My niece installed all three on my old computer when she was visiting, and it took me hours to get the latter two off my computer. I never was able to get rid of AIM on that computer.

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is TRILLIAN the best?
by eecoff / March 2, 2006 10:52 PM PST
In reply to: Go "Unified" !


I use Trillian and Skype for voice too... you should also try voipstunt if you use the Skypeout functionality is great and almost free!

Has anyone compared TRILLIAN to GAIM? I read a post about lower performance of Trillian, although I've used it for about 4 years and it has always worked well (except for some glitches during version changes). I miss the voice and video functionality but I can live without it. Is there an application out there with all the bells and whistles?

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i use trillian
by Fr33ag3nt / March 3, 2006 9:04 AM PST
In reply to: is TRILLIAN the best?

and i love it no pop ups simple gots my aim icq yahoo and hotmaill all in one

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The Best!
by jorgelan / March 3, 2006 1:40 AM PST
In reply to: Go "Unified" !

I agree 100%, Trillian and Skype are the perfect pair.
I've tried all IM's around, and this is it! Trillian. I stay in touch with ICQ, MSN, YAHOO and AIM contacts in one IM, no hassels, no pop-ups, no problem!
I recommend very much that combination, Trillian for messaging and Skype for Calls.
Best wishes!

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Apple users: try Adium
by alistaire / March 3, 2006 12:47 PM PST
In reply to: Go "Unified" !

For any Apple users, I would highly recommend Adium, a free "unified" chat program based off of Gaim. It is by far the best I have ever used, particularly because of its flexibility: you can change sounds, emoticons, buddy list setup, aliases, message window format, and on and on. With a little patience, you can make it perfect for you. The Adium website is very helpful in this regard, providing many plugins, also all free.

I recommend it over iChat for everything but voice and video chats (Adium does some voice chats, but no video, and not as seamlessly as iChat in my experience). For all its flexibility, Adium is still very user-friendly, even for someone without a lot of IM experience.

If you have an Apple (which I also highly recommend), this is an essential program.

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Instant Messenger
by scubajon / March 2, 2006 7:13 PM PST

There are also other ways to contact regular friends and buddys. MSN Messenger is one and there are others but they all basically work the same way. You download their software and install it. Then, like the others you make sure your friends are on the same network and you can chat all day if you wish. Unlike the other instant messenger services, you can also use voice chat with messenger. All you need is a microphone and the facility to voice chat is on the menu, which you select, and away you go. This service is also free and is nearly as good as ViOP which is becoming popular, but that's another story. It's worth thinking about if your friends are on it as only they and you can see each other so you will get no interruptions from strangers butting in (which they do from time to time) Hope this helps and gives you an alternative. Scubajon

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Trend to convergence once again!
by mcneillr / March 2, 2006 7:16 PM PST

I think I had a Yahoo! IM account(but it may have been AOL) several years ago, then after it died from lack of use I started to use MSN Messenger. Late last year I saw an announcement by MS & Yahoo that their respective IM products would move to a standard messaging format. I've recently seen Yahoo! people via MSN (here in Oz), so it seems it's working to some extent. I'm all for 3rd party software (i.e. the little guys), it seems they may be driving the show by making the bigger messengers communicate. There will always be feature differences as each vendor tries to out-do the others - hooray! As a software developer I find the ability to easily swith to Remote Assistance for my XP using customers a great benefit - the hardest thing is getting them on a suitable passport Happy !
Which one to use? This is becoming less of a issue, but the main driver for me has always been who else (I know or think I want to know) is there? Hard to tell until you've tried. It's hard to make an actual mistake here, so go for whatever takes your fancy.
One last plus - well before VoIP I held audio conversations with my Aussie customers over a dial up from my mother's condo in Vancouver. They were thrilled! I've not pushed my webcam use because I value not having to shave or put on a tie before I start work. IM to mobile/cell and back could be interesting, but until it's melded with SMS (it probably will be) and the costs are reasonable (hey - we're talking a few 100 bytes per message, not Kbytes or Mbytes!) I'll stick with my SMS web provider.
My experiences have all been positive - but there must be some negatives, so let's hear them (please).

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ICQ Is Separate Channel, But Owned By AOL
by pmchefalo / March 2, 2006 7:50 PM PST

Not a significant point, probably, but one shouldn't shy away from ICQ thinking it's a fly-by-night system.

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ICQ Fly-by-night?
by angrykeyboarder / March 2, 2006 8:13 PM PST

Before AIM, Yahoo! and MSN Messengers even existed. ICQ was *it* when it came to instant messaging.

Only a few years *after* AOL created ICQ (which it was still lagging behind in popularity at the time) did they buy Mirabilis, then the parent company of ICQ.

Within a few years AOL had migrated ICQ from it's own networks to the same Network AOL uses and then allowed AIM and ICQ users to communicate with one another.

ICQ became increasingly bloated over the years. An attempt a few years ago to more-or-less start over with new software produced another bloated client of a different kind.

Most ICQ old-timers use other software these days to connect to the network (Trillian, Gaim, Kopete, Miranda, etc).

The latest version of AIM *finally* has a feature that ICQ has had from the very beginning (MSN and Yahoo! have had it too). It's the ability to log your conversations. Previously AIM was the only software lacking this function. One has always been able to do it with the non-AIM clients though.

The downside to the new feature in AIM is that the software has become more and more bloated. They keep adding mostly useless junk to it and now it even forces you to install "AIM Explorer", which is just a pretty front end for Microsoft Internet Explorer.

But I digress...

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Chat with ALL your friends in one program!
by DuhStorm / March 2, 2006 7:55 PM PST

Having been an internet nut since 1992, Trillian was an answer to a prayer. With Trillian IM, I am able to chat with ALL my friends, regardless of the program they use, in one window. The program imports your friends from any existing programs you have accounts with, so nothing changes from the receiver's side and set up is a snap. Are the bells and whistles as snazzy? Nahhh, but those all get old in about a week anyway.


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I completly agree, Trillan is the solution.
by Mendieta / March 3, 2006 6:01 PM PST

With Trillian you can chat with ICQ, AIM, Yahoo, AOL & IRC users, all with just one application & one contact list, why will someone use more than one program?

And if you want Video chat too, just get the Paid version.

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What is the problem with using your real name?
by saulbejarano / March 2, 2006 8:41 PM PST

I still do not get it, why all the secrecy about using your real name on MSN chats, your name is on the yellow pages as well as your telephone number, your address and many other information, why would it make a difference not to use your real name?
Can you explain please?


Saul B.

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The less identity you throw out there, the better
by kschang / March 3, 2006 12:39 AM PST

One reason, somewhat humorous, is using your real name is a headache because some people who don't understand the Internet will give you trouble.

The Net-Talkshow Host David Lawrence of Online Tonight was harassed by a granny because his screenname on AOL was Lawrence. And this granny keeps want to contact her nephew Lawrence, but keep getting David Lawrence instead, and no amount of explanation will convince her that the screenname is NOT the same as the actual name. She thought she could get "her" Lawrence on chat just by typing "Lawrence" into the "talk to" field.

Seriously though, some people fill out profile info without realizing it's not necessary, and it gives ID thieves a lot to to work on. The less you put out to the public, the less they have to work with. NOT using your realname is a start, as it's harder to relate the info back to you.

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Same here
by wresnick / March 3, 2006 4:10 AM PST

There is a radio talk show host in Los Angeles who shares my name. In the earlier days of the Internet, around 1994, I understood why people would occasionally assume that it was unlikely for somebody else with that name to have a website. But I still get an occasional comment asking me about something I said on my radio show.

My website says nothing about a radio show, except for a disclaimer saying that I don't have one. But it doesn't stop people from leaving comments about my show in my guestbook.

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