How to Change Modes in iChat on Your MacBook

By Mark L. Chambers

It’s easy to launch iChat on your MacBook from Lion’s Launchpad: Click the Launchpad icon in the Dock and click the iChat icon. However, you can also click its menu bar icon, which is grayed out when you’re offline.

If you’re not already familiar with the terms online and offline, here’s the scoop: When you’re online, folks can invite you to chat and communicate with you. When you’re offline, you’re disconnected: iChat isn’t active, you can’t be paged, and you can’t chat.

Even when you’re offline, you can choose Available from the friendly balloon menu bar icon, which automatically switches iChat to online mode. Or you can click a Buddy name directly, which automatically switches iChat to online mode and opens the paging window for that Buddy. (Naturally, you have to have the proper network or Internet connection first.)

You can use another mode, Away, whenever iChat is running and you’re still online but not available. For example, if away from your MacBook for a few minutes, leave iChat running but switch to Away mode. Your Buddies get a message saying that you’re Away, so they won’t bother trying to contact you.

When you return to your laptop, simply swipe your finger across the trackpad, and iChat intelligently inquires as to whether you’d like to return to Available mode. You can also use the menu bar icon to switch from Away to Available (or Twiddling My Thumbs).

iChat can even display the iTunes song you’re listening to at the moment. Pick Current iTunes Song from the menu and impress your friends with your digital audio techno-powers.

Speaking of modes, you, too, can create a custom mode — like Bored stiff! or Listening to the Pointy-Haired Boss — and use it instead of the somewhat mundane choices of Available and Away.

To do this, display the Buddy List window, click the word Available beneath your name, and a drop-down menu appears. Click Custom Available or Custom Away to create your new mode. An edit box appears, in which you can type the new mode; press Return to automatically add the newcomer to your mode list. You can also switch modes from this pop-up menu.

To choose an existing mode, click it; modes with a green bullet are online modes, and red bullet modes are offline modes. (Apple provides you with some starting choices, like Surfing the Web for Available and In a Meeting for Away.)

If you decide your status list is getting a bit too lengthy with all those custom messages, click the Available pop-up menu in the Buddy List window and choose Edit Status Menu. Both the Available and Away list boxes have a Delete button (which bears a minus sign).

Click the offending status message to select it and click the Delete button to take care of business. (If you like, you can also add custom modes in this dialog.)