Talking Up Apple's iChat AV

In truth, calling iChat AV an instant messaging program is selling it way short, kind of like telling somebody that Michael Jordan knows how to make free throws. The AV part stands for audio visual or audio video, depending on who you ask.

So yes, iChat is a competent instant messenger for handling traditional text chatter. But consider some of iChat's other tricks:

  • You can exchange files while talking with someone.
  • You can have a free audio conference with up to nine other people.
  • You can engage in a video conference from your Mac desktop with up to three other people.

You need to do at least one of the following to get going with iChat:

  • Have an existing AIM or AOL screen name and password: As noted, iChat is tied in with AOL's popular instant messaging program.
  • Have a Jabber ID: You can use a Jabber ID to exchange messages with cohorts who share the same Jabber servers.
  • Use or sign up for a fee-based .Mac account: You can get a free .Mac account just for the purposes of using iChat by sampling all the other .Mac features on a trial basis.
  • Be on a local network or in a classroom using Apple technology called Bonjour, formerly known as Rendezvous: Through this built-in technology, iChat lets you see who on your local network is available to chat. Bonjour, however, is used for configuration-free networking throughout OS X.

Having buddies

Naturally, iChat AV is useless without one more essential component: at least one other person with whom to schmooze. If you signed up with an AIM account and have been using AOL's instant messenger for a while, your buddy list may already be populated with a bunch of names.

To add new people to the list, click the + button at the bottom of the Buddy List window, choose Buddies --> Add Buddy, or press Shift+Command+A. You're given the option to choose an entry from your Address Book. (Data you put there is made available to iChat.) Otherwise, click New Person.

You can also lump your buddies into groups (such as coworkers and a soccer team). To do so, Choose View --> Use Groups and click + to add or edit a group.

You'll be able to tell whether your buddies are online at the moment and willing to give you the time of day. Here's how:

  • A green circle to the left of a person's name means that he or she is ready and (presumably) willing to talk.
  • A red circle means that the person is online but otherwise engaged. The person is considered Away.
  • A yellow circle means that the person on your list is idle and has not used the machine for a while. Your buddy just hasn't bothered to change his or her status from Available to Away.
  • If a name is dimmed, your buddy isn't logged on to iChat or AIM.

Chatting

To initiate an instant message, double-click a name in the buddy list, which pops up whenever you open iChat. Type something in the bottom box. Typing Hey stranger will suffice for now. Alternately, you can chose File --> New Chat and enter the name of the person with whom you would like to chat.

What you type instantly appears in a comic-strip bubble in the upper portion of the window. If the person responds, what he or she has to say appears in its own comic-strip bubble.

Say you're having an important IM exchange with your lawyer or accountant. You may want a record of your conversation. To create a transcript of your chitchatting, open iChat Preferences. To do so, click the iChat menu and then click Preferences. Choose the Messages icon, and then select the Automatically Save Chat Transcripts option.

You can use iChat also to send files to your IM buddy (or get a file in return). Not only is it convenient, but unlike with email, you also have no size restriction on the file you're sharing. (You can send only one file at a time, however.) Select a name on your buddy list, and then choose Buddies --> Send File. Select the file you want to send.

You can proactively determine who can see that you're online and send you messages. Under iChat Preferences, click the Accounts icon and then click the Security tab. Choose a Privacy Level that you're comfortable with. The options are as follows:

  • Allow anyone.
  • Allow people in my buddy list.
  • Allow specific people. If you make this choice, you have to type each person's AIM or .Mac address.
  • Block everyone.
  • Block specific people. Again, type the appropriate addresses.
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