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The state of IM

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on September 28, 2007
(Issue 2539, Your Home Wireless Network)

A friend from Korea sent me an invite to upgrade to Yahoo Messenger 8. To be honest, I can't even remember what version I had installed before, it's been so long since I've used it and the new install overwrote it. But it was old enough that when he tried to add me as a contact, he got a prompt to ask me to upgrade instead.

It's a free download, and the auto-generated e-mail from Yahoo promised some pretty cool new features – not least of which was cross-platform compatibility with Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger (formerly Windows Messenger).

IM still balkanized

Despite Yahoo and Windows new capability to access each other's IM networks, instant messaging remains largely a set of closed systems. If you want to IM a friend on AIM, you download an AIM client. If you want to IM a friend on ICQ, you download an ICQ client. And of course, you have to set up an account with each of these systems (although all of them are free).

And even if Yahoo and Windows IM users can now communicate via their existing online IDs, the fact that MySpace now has MySpace IM only adds to the checkerboard of IM standards.

Yahoo Messenger

Yahoo's Messenger version 8 is an easy install, and a quick one if you've got a broadband connection.

In addition to being able to chat with friends on Windows Messenger, Yahoo Messenger now includes PC telephony (albeit with a charge) and webcam support.

When I upgraded from either version 6 or 7, Yahoo Messenger found all my contacts and imported them without a hiccup.

Windows Messenger

I use Windows XP Home Edition SP2, and until about 10 minutes ago had Windows Messenger 4.7. I have the automatic updates for Windows turned on and Windows Messenger is an embedded component of Windows. But I had to go to the Windows Live site to download the lastest version of Messenger in order to get the cross-IM compatibility with Yahoo.

Before it will install from the Windows Live site, the installer runs a system check of some kind on your PC – checking for previously installed components, it said – but that shouldn't take 5 minutes, not an 3.2 Ghz P4.

Like the new Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger includes PC telephony (make and receive phone calls from your PC, like with Skype), Webcam support and other bells and whistles (universal mail client, blog manager, et al) that just seem really unnecessary for a instant messaging client.


AOL's instant messager is now up to version 6. Of all the IM clients now out, this is the most straight-forward. No, you can't use a Webcam with it. No, you can't make Internet telephone calls over your PC.

But AIM still has one of the largest user bases (everyone with AOL has AIM), and it's client is easy to use.


There was a time that ICQ was one of the up-and-coming online services. It may not have had AIM's popularity with teenagers, but the geeks and tech heads preferred it over the others.

ICQ is now on version 6, and remains a free service. In addition to the ICQ IM client, you can also sign up for free ICQ Webmail and an ICQ toolbar for your browser.

The IM client from ICQ is much like AIM's: simple, easy to use, to the point.


If you're like me, you've got friends on all of the above IM systems. If you want to chat with one, you power up your AIM client. For another, Yahoo or ICQ.

Which makes the Trillian multi-platform IM client such a treat. Now in version 3.1, Trillian allows you to have one IM client open, and yet access your IM accounts on Yahoo, Windows Messenger (formerly MSN), AIM and ICQ, plus the little-used IRC (Internet Relay Chat).

It's a free download, although they sell an advanced version with additional functionality (font support, emoticons, file transfers with Yahoo Messenger).


We wrote about MySpace IM earlier this year, and it's not changed much. Chalk it up to my middle-aged social circle, but very few of my MySpace friends have signed up for MySpace IM. But it's comparable to AIM or ICQ.

I just wonder if MySpace Nation isn't more attuned to cell phone text messaging than it is to the notion of sending instant messages via the computer.


Like IRC, Jabber is somewhat complicated in that you have to set up server addresses in the client. In the age of plug and play, in which the major IM clients all simply work once you download and install them, I think IRC and Jabber are pretty much reserved for old-timers and tinkerers.