Breathe new life into OS X iChat

ichat iconFollowing in the footsteps of the previous Breathe new life into OS X Safari post which spurred debates concerning OS X browsers, free vs. paid plugins (extensions), and rendering capabilities, I felt a follow-up post concerning a second regularly used application was in order. An application also of Apple’s own creation distributed with every OS X powered computer to date – iChat.

Instant messaging has become a valuable communication asset – both personal & professional. What better way to manage your text, audio, and video chat needs than Apple’s own iChat? But wait, why would any OS X user settle for iChat when Swiss Army knife applications like the awesome multi-protocol Adium exist? Why? I know why I prefer iChat over all else: at the end of the day, message themes, contact list styling, wonky sounds, dancing ducks, and messages coming in from IM-network protocols that make up 3% of my buddy does not justify me loading anything other than iChat.

Aside from multi-network support (there are workarounds) outside of AIM / .Mac, you’ll see why that aqua chat icon buried in your applications folder deserves valuable dock real estate.

When does iChat not work?

iChat just works. With so little in the bells & whistles department, there really isn’t any room for disaster to occur. In its default form, iChat does exactly what it was designed to do with very little intervention needed by a user. From the initial setup requiring your name, AIM / .Mac screen name or username, and password, there is little else that a user needs in order to exchange instant messages with other AIM / .Mac users.

ichat account setup

Once an account is added, users can immediately enjoy plain text chats / direct connections, file transferring, audio chats with support for 10 person conference calls, and video chat with support for multi-party video conferences. Last I checked, alternative instant messaging applications fall short after the plain text / direct connects & file transfers.

Chax – More productive iChat sessions

chax plugin screenshot

Kent Sutherland’s Chax is to iChat what Saft is Safari, On the Job is to project management, or ketchup is to hotdogs. Chax adds subtle enhancements to iChat without taking away from the simplistic nature of the application. Using a few of the default as well as added Chax features, you too can fine tune your chat session productivity level.

ichat groupsClean-up your Buddy List – Organize contacts in your buddy list using Groups (View > Use groups). As entertaining as buddy icons can be, their integration as a default feature forces extra padding between contacts. Remove icons from users (View > Show Buddy Pictures). To minimize the Buddy List footprint even further, disable contacts Status text using Chax (View > Show Text Status). Furthermore, iChat users can specify fonts (iChat preferences > Chax > General > Contact List).

ichat groupsManage individual messages – Managing multiple chats from users can be a daunting task. Although OS X’s Expose provides great functionality as far as locating an intended contacts window, tabbed conversation windows are even better. Chax also provides a “Automatically accept text invitations” option which does away with the annoying mini windows that pop-up in the top right corner for new conversations. If tabbed windows are enabled, new instant messages will automatically receive a new tab.

chax log viewerChat transcript viewer – If saving chat transcripts is your thing, the integrated Chax log viewer will be your new best friend. Although Tiger’s Spotlight indexes iChat transcripts located in your ~/Documents/iChats folder, you never really know if the Spotlight result will be of any use as the entire chat transcript is pulled for viewing. Rather than shelling $20 for Unsanity’s Chat Transcript Manager, make use of the Chax Log Viewer (Window > Log Viewer). The Log Viewer supports exporting transcripts as plain text (we all know what a pain it can be to email iChat transcripts) and log deletion (leave no questions asked). The viewer also support live search for drilling down through contacts without having to weed through irrelevant logs. Also check out Logorrhea.

The added functionality list offered by Chax goes on and on. Check out a free copy for yourself. Chax is distributed as donation-ware. Toss a few dollars into the donation pot or drop Mr. Sutherland a thankful email for his hard work and contribution to the iChat community. Updates are distributed regularly as Chax is continually receiving refinements to add to the iChat experience.

Keep prominent contacts within focus

afloat window transparency and focus

Window transparency may be unnecessary eye candy, but floating windows are not. Fortunately, the lightweight utility Afloat offers both features bundled together. Once installed, any relaunched Cocoa apps will reflect a new Window menu option for floating windows or transparency with no noticeable hits on system resources. A convenient method for keeping conversations in plain view without the obstruction of miscellaneous application windows. Extremely helpful for times when contacts are explaining an assignment, directions, or anything else that would have users switching back and forth between multiple applications.

Keep audio records or create Podcasts

Thanks to the seamless integration of Apple’s iLife apps, iChat & Garageband work together in perfect harmony. After initiating a voice chat, fire up Garageband and select “New Podcast Episode”. After Garageband completes loading, initiate a new recording. Garageband does the rest splitting each respective iChat audio participant into separate tracks. A great way to co-create Podcasts or record private audio chats. As much as I enjoy the convenience of such functionality, I do think that Apple should implement some sort of “this chat is being recorded” feature for the privacy minded. To date, there is no way for contacts to know whether their conversations are being recorded in real time.

iChat is not limited to AIM / .Mac

chax log viewerContrary to popular belief, iChat does not limit its users to the AIM / .Mac networks. iChat is very much as capable a client and provides multi-network support for those pinch moments when communicating via Google Talk, MSN, or Yahoo is a must. Communicating on any of these networks requires that users do so via Jabber, an open XML-based instant messaging protocol. Utilizing the Jabber network to access MSN & Yahoo gateways requires a stress-free setup. Reference the Jabber Australia tutorial for accessing either networks via iChat. In addition, check out Ben’s write-up on getting iChat and Google Talk to play nice.

What will Leopard have in store for iChat?

With OS X Leopard just around the corner, what can loyal iChat users expect from Apple? Any thoughts on what iChat may support in its next major revision? Share your thoughts concerning the application – where it falls short, how it excels, add-ons, or your own personal recommendation for an instant messaging solution on OS X.

Discuss - 24 Comments

  1. Ben says:

    You could just download Adium 😉

  2. Derek says:

    No.. The point is to stick with iLife applications! 😉 This is just a reminder that iChat still gets the job done without having to download a 3rd party application for instant messaging. Besides, I refuse to communicate with anyone via MSN, Yahoo, or any other protocol for that matter unless my AIM to others ratio rises above 3%

    What’s going on with your site? Where’s the fresh layout?

  3. weisheng says:

    I wish my contacts weren’t all on MSN but that’s a sad fact of life in a Windows-dominated world. Support for video chat apart from iChat is woefully lacking on other IM applications for the Mac. Not that Microsoft is going to do anything about that anytime soon.

  4. Chris says:

    No Lotus Sametime/Meanwhile support in iChat… That’s the only reason I need not to use it.

  5. Brian says:

    I replace Apple apps with third-party apps whenever possible.

  6. Dan Warne says:

    Well come on now, iChat isn’t really every bit as capable as Adium. It can’t log you in directly to multiple accounts on many different networks. Doing it via a Jabber gateway adds one potential point of failure, and you also have to share your username and password for each network with the Jabber gateway operator. It’s not quite the same thing. I think that iChat is a very nice chat client, and its video chat is a good capability, I’m just sayin’ your article talks it up a little bit 🙂

  7. Jacob says:

    I love Adium, but must say that I have envy those I see still using iChat. Aside from the fact that I have friends on MSN, Yahoo, etc., TABBED CHAT WINDOWS TAKE THE CAKE. If iChat incorporates this, I’ll reunite immediately.

  8. daniel says:

    i found out a long time ago about chax, which is the best add-on to any application ever made. that really would be the only thing most people would ever need to upgrade the sleek ichat that matches the rest of tiger. this is because most people use only one aim account at a time, Dan Warne. and yes, jacob. though mentioned but not expressed to its full, CHAX GIVES ICHAT TABBED CHATTING!!!!! this is the best feature about the entire chax add-on. plus you get ichats audio and video conferencing, which is far superior to any other program out there right now. this freeware add-on makes ichat the IM winner.

  9. I must admit while Adium’s “bells & whistles” do appeal to me occationally I really can’t do without iChat. As you point out the real knock out power of iChat is simply it’s simplicity – I don’t want to or have patenice anymore to mess around with skins and icons and whatever not else just to be able to message people on MSN or Yahoo! – I just want something that works out of the box and what’s what iChat delivers to me. Not to mention being able to login and out of your accounts to see if anyone you want to talk to are online using the menu bar – I rarely need to bring up the Buddy List window because of that wonderful feature.

    Whilst I knew most of what you’ve posted already I didn’t know about Afloat which I will give a try – David Watanabe’s “NewsFire” has such a feature which I have become quite fond of over time so thank you for pointing it out to us all in the dark.

  10. Adam says:

    I would use iChat over Adium if I was able to format the text in my Away Messages. If I have an away message, I might want SOME of the text to be bold, but not all of it, and to my knowledge, in iChat, it is either all or none. Plus, there is the whole video capabilities. If anyone has a solution for this text -formatting, please let me know.

  11. Derek says:

    I think that iChat is a very nice chat client, and its video chat is a good capability, I’m just sayin’ your article talks it up a little bit 🙂

    Well there’s nothing wrong with a little honest boasting for iChat 😉 WWDC is today so maybe we’ll see a beta update for iChat.

  12. Alex says:

    For the longest time I have been using Adium and I always wanted to use MSN within iChat but I never got around doing it easely and quickly as this. Now I have all my MSN contacts in iChat.

    thx Derek
    You made my day !

  13. […] life into OS X Front Row 09.24.06 Stamped: apple, front row, osx, tips, video, xvid Comment or Ping Continuing the “Breathe new life into OS X” series including Breathe new life into OS X Safari& Breathe new life into OS X iChat, our focus will be on Apple’s Front Row application. Out of the box, Front Row taps into your current media library composed of iTunes albums, movies, television shows, iPhoto albums, and DVDs. Enjoy your multimedia library from the comfort of your couch or bed using the included Front Row remote. Perfect right? Nothing more to ask for. Right? Wrong. […]

  14. viperteq says:

    Derek, is there a plugin for iChat that will make Jabber and AIM/.Mac buddy lists converge into one list like in Adium?

  15. Derek says:

    Viperteq, unfortunately there are no plugins that will allow users to accomplish that type of convenience. It’s something that I have looked high and low for. It’s something that Apple will need to implement themselves. The only workaround is to use Jabber and nothing else. Setup your AIM / MSN / Yahoo gateways through Jabber and you can have a single buddy list open. You’ll loose file transfer and audio / video support for AIM though.

  16. Simon says:

    You want to know what they need to make ichat any good – make it cross platform. I gave up on .mac when the started charging for it , not on eI know outside the US uses AIM so I want something that talks with google yahoo and MSN which are what most people I know use as there chat source. I use Adium but am not completely happy as I had to join MSN Passport… get my drift?

    If I could use ichat with what ever my current email address was and chat to anyone elsewhere I would be happy

  17. Derek says:

    What about skype as a chat client. Chat, video, audio and cross platform?

    Skype is definitely a versatile client encompassing VoIP, text chat, and video (cross-platform). However, this post was written specifically for iChat users. I use Skype daily. The only gripe I have with the service is that it is not yet as widely accepted as any other messaging protocol.

  18. scott says:

    What about skype as a chat client. Chat, video, audio and cross platform?

  19. Harris says:

    If the next incarnation of iChat could integrate Skype, MSN and Yahoo (in addition to its existing IM capabilities) and the ability to use voice, text chat and video chat with any client (without the need to set up any jabber servers, etc.) then they would have a real winner. I have only been able to use iChat with the two other people that I know using Macs, but I want to use iChat, as it is a great program. I think that this is Apple’s last area of Mac-PC separation that they need to sort out.

    My two cents…

  20. Derek says:

    Definitely crossing my fingers hoping for some sort of privacy related feature which would allow users to hide or set their statuses as “invisible”.