If you are new to the Mac you might not know that every Mac comes with an incredible instant messaging client called iChat. Even if you've been using Macs for years, you might not know everything iChat can do for you. It's one of the most feature rich communication tools on the Mac or any other platform. While there are many other programs that do similar things, none do all of them in one package. Instant Messaging, Audio Chat, Video Chat, Screen Sharing and Photo Sharing are the marquee features of this incredible application.
iChat allows you to communicate with not just other iChat users but also AIM users, Jabber users and Google Talk users. iChat treats each service as a separate group meaning that you can log into one or all of them and have conversations with several different friends on several different services at the same time. To add different services, just go click on iChat in the Menu Bar, then click on Preferences. From there click on the "+" sign in the lower left hand corner and then add the service you want. You can also add more than one user name for each account.
You can start an audio chat while you are texting a friend, or you can start an audio chat right from the start. To begin just click on the telephone icon in your chat window or in the buddy list window. Once you do that the other person's computer will "ring" letting them know you want to chat. All they have to do is press "accept" and you will be chatting. Remember you can do this across the house, the country or from one side of the planet to the other - at no charge! Calls to Grandma just got cheaper. [ad#468x60 Banner]
If you are talking with grandma and you want to show her how much little Johnny has grown, you might want to do a video chat. Starting a video chat is done the same was as you start an audio chat, you just click on the camera icon instead. Just like with an audio chat the other person's computer will ring and all they most do to start the chat is click "accept." Let's say you want to show both grandma's how much Johnny has grown? You can have up to three other people in your video chat. So you can have both grandmas and uncle Charlie on the same video chat.
Let's say you have grandma in a chat, and she happens to mention she is having trouble with Apple Mail. She doesn't really know how to fix the problem but you do. No problem, just click on the overlapping boxes (screen sharing) and once grandma accepts and grants you control, you can completely control her computer from across the country. She can see everything you are doing, so you can "show" her how to fix the problem or you can watch and she makes all the changes. So much easier to help, when you can see what the other person sees.
Let's say you have bunch of photos from your last vacation and you want to share them with grandma. Once you have started a chat with grandma, click on File in the menu and then select "share iPhoto with iChat Theater..." now you can choose what photos you want to share and then begin. You can show and talk about each of the photos. Not just photos though, you can share a document as well. Say you need to go over an important document with a partner in another state, no need to fly out there. Just do the same thing as you would for sharing iPhoto, only this time choose "Share file with iChat Theater..." Let the meeting begin.
iChat is the unsung hero of the instant messaging world. It's features are many and it's annoyances are few. It's not flashy and runs silently in the background. iChat allows you to chat easily with friends and family anywhere in the world they can get an internet connection. Give it a try. If you like, drop me a line and I will help you test it out. Just e-mail me at TheAppleProf@me.com.