Chat around the world
A dear friend will soon be going to live for a while on the other side of the planet. It seems certain she will have access to a computer and a fast Internet connection which means we’ll be able to correspond by email, blog, Instant Messaging and VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).
Instant Messaging is also known as IM, or chat. It’s an extremely useful method for discussion and exchanging files (eg photos). Businesses and individuals are using IM daily for work and pleasure.
Depending on your Internet connection and the hardware you have available, you may chat by typing, by talking or even by video.
Every Mac comes with IM client software: look in your Applications folder for iChat. But before you can use iChat you need two things: someone to talk to and a (free) screen name with a service that enables the chatting.
Get a free screen name
It’s easy to get a free Screen Name from AIM. Click the link called Get a Screen Name near the top of the page at www.aim.com.
Screenshot 01: Sign up for a free screen name at AIM.com.
Set up ichat
Connect to the Internet and open iChat. If you’ve never used it before a Setup Assistant appears to help you through the set up process. Read the information and click Continue. On the next screen enter your name, choose AIM as the Account Type, enter the screen name you signed up for and the password you chose, then click Continue.
Screenshot 02: Fill in your screen name and password in the iChat setup screen.
Unless you know what Jabber is, ignore that screen for now and click Continue.
Bonjour messaging is useful if you have other computers nearby, as the next screen explains. Make a choice and click Continue.
Screenshot 03: You’ll soon know if you have a (functioning) iSight camera!
A final screen tells you how you can get underway and how to change the settings you’ve just chosen. Click Done to quit the Setup Assistant.
Use the buddy list
Screenshot 04: The Bonjour window and the Buddy List.
To add a new buddy make sure the Buddy List window is active (click on it once, if necessary) then go to the Buddies… menu and choose Add Buddy…. A window into your Mac’s Address Book appears.
Add a buddy
If your new buddy is already in your Mac’s Address Book select their name from the Address Book list. Otherwise, click New Person, choose their Account Type, enter their screen name, then click Add. Their screen name is added to your Buddy List. The name is dimmed in your Buddy list if they’re not online, or are online but don’t have their chat software running.
If they come online and start up their Chat software their screen name will appear in black in the Buddy List. Double click their name and you can start chatting.
Chat with ichat
iChat should automatically log in when you start it up, but if it does not then click on “Offline” in the Status Menu in the Buddy window, just below your username. Choose Available from the drop-down.
If the Buddy List isn’t visible choose it from the Window menu. Once you’re connected to the chat server any buddies who have their chat software running and are online show up in the Buddy List in dark text. Offline buddies may be displayed in light grey text. Look under the View menu for display options.
Send a message
Screenshot 05: Someone has invited me to chat. I type an answer and click Accept.
The intended recipient will see a small window with your message. Once they accept the invitation by clicking on your message, typing a response and clicking Accept, the chat is on. A chat window opens, displaying your comments on one side and theirs on the other.
Exchange text messages and files
Type your side of the conversation into the text area at the bottom of the window and press Return to send. Send files, such as photos or other files by dragging them into the text area and pressing Return.
Screenshot 06: I’m chatting with kiwilessa. To send a puppy photo I just drag it into the area where I normally type my messages.
In my experiments, photos and PDFs tended to be displayed in the chat window, while other files appeared as a message containing the filename.
When the recipient clicked on that message a window popped-up, showing the file was being transferred.
To end a chat close the chat window.
Audio and video with ichat
While Instant Messaging chat works well by typing messages, that’s not the only way to use it. Depending on your computer hardware and your Internet connection you may also chat by voice, using only audio, or with both audio and video.
Typing works well for people on slow or dubious Internet connections, and of course in public places such as Internet cafes, libraries or open-plan offices. It’s also good for very quick messages, or conversations where both parties are also doing other things such as checking emails, feeding the puppies or working on a document.
For example, in 2006 Maria Langer and I co-wrote a book called WordPress 2 Visual Quickstart Guide. Maria lives in Arizona and I’m in Wellington. We have never met. Several times we chatted, by text or by video, either to quickly clarify points about the book, or just to get better acquainted. Chat is an invaluable work tool, as well as a great social activity.
If you have a broadband Internet connection, and you have both a microphone and speakers in your computer (or a way to plug them in), then an audio or video chat could be a good choice.
Most recent Macs include both a built-in microphone (even if you can’t see it) and speakers, and many include an iSight camera.
Go online, start up iChat and make sure your Buddy List is visible (Window menu). Set your Status to Available, and you should see a list of online Buddies.
If a buddy has a telephone icon next to their name, then you can chat with them by voice. If they have an icon of a video camera, then you can chat by video.
To initiate an audio chat click on the phone icon, rather than just the person’s name. When you do that a window opens up on your screen letting you know that iChat has called on your Buddy and is “Waiting for reply…”.
On your Buddy’s computer a window pops up, inviting them to an audio chat, and also a phone ringing sound alerts them to your call (provided they don’t have their speakers muted).
To respond to a Buddy’s call, click on the Invitation window and choose to respond by text (this starts a text chat session), or click Decline or Accept. If you Decline, your Buddy is told you have declined the chat.
If you Accept, each person sees a small window with a Volume slider and green bars to indicate volume. Now just take turns talking.
Click the microphone icon to Mute — for example, you may sneeze or cough and wish to briefly stop transmitting sound.
Once you’ve finished chatting, close the chat window. A message appears that you have “ended the conference”.
Video chatting works in almost exactly the same way, but you need to click on the video camera icon. While chatting, you see your Buddy in a window, with an inset of what they’re seeing (which will probably be you).
Screenshot 07: That’s just weird — the person I’m chatting with looks just like a bunch of grass and trees! (To get this screenshot I was chatting with my Mac mini whose camera is pointed out of the window.)
There’s more you can do with chat, such as having multi-person conferences, but this article should be enough to get you started. From here, explore the menus and most of all, have fun chatting with friends, family and colleagues.
You can sometimes find Miraz available for chat (with video) at
I’d like to thank MacTips reader Jo Fothergill for agreeing to chat with me so I could make some of the screenshots. Jo writes a blog called ‘out and about in aotearoa’. You can read it at kiwilessa.livejournal.com.
This article was first published in Macguide magazine Issue #33 May / June 2007 and has been modified from the original.