Chat in the latest versions

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MSN messenger 4.5: Join the chat room

With the new version, MSN has perhaps the biggest collection of emoticons and smileys among the top four messengers. You can pick from regular expressions of happiness, sadness, embarrassment and so on to more innovative ones like a cup of tea, a camera, a cake, a gift, a cat or a dog or even the moon.

Now your online buddies can get in touch with you on your phone from their PC, if you enter your phone number. For this you'll have to go to the MSN Mobile Website and set up an account.


You can invite your friends to join in a chat conversation and everyone can talk to everyone else like the conference in Yahoo!

Another cool feature added in this version is the ability to join a chat room. You can also group your contacts-family, friends, co-workers or create a new group. Moving your contact between groups is extremely easy just drag and drop names from one group to the other.

Still no offline messages

You can't leave an offline message for a friend so that she can view it whenever she signs in. Unlike ICQ, where you can send messages to any mobile phone from your PC, you can't use MSN messenger to send a message to a mobile phone that doesn't belong to your buddies.

Yahoo! 5.0: A whole new IMvironment

IMVironments are theme backgrounds that wrap around your messenger to add character to your conversations.


You can choose from snowflakes to fishtanks, to comic book and video game characters and your smileys, messages, and messenger window all change with the IMVironment. If you choose a Dilbert IMVironment for example, your messages will be mouthed comic book style by Dilbert. There's a crystal ball IMVironment that actually talks back to you, a Garbage one that plays songs from the band of the same name, and a Mario version where you get to be the game parlor superstar.

You can send these IMVironments to other buddies and set up your messenger to always start a chat with one buddy in a particular IMVironment. But sadly IMVironments are not backward compatible, so you'll have to first get your friends to download the latest version of Yahoo! Another very visible but not so welcome change is the Insider Window that now pops up every time you login. This points to interesting things like new IMVironments but more to other Yahoo! services.

More substantially, the new Yahoo! has improved support for messaging behind corporate firewalls. What happens now is that if your friend can't receive a file directly from you because of a firewall, Yahoo will offer to upload it to a server and send it indirectly.


Among the minor additions are some emoticons and typing notification when a friend is typing a message to you.

Needs simplification

Searching for new buddies and file transfers are still not as simple as in AIM and


AIM 4.7: Who wants to rate a buddy?

The new AIM has some nifty new features that might appeal to teenagers but there's now one outstanding feature that'll have you recommending it to buddies. The most visible change is also the most annoying. Right on sign-up, an AIM Today window pops up (like the Yahoo! Insider window on Yahoo!). You can view and rate pictures of other AIM members (on a scale of 1-10), get new icons and emoticons for your messenger, and catch up on the news but there's nothing much of great value.


Fortunately you can turn it off (Click on the new wrench icon on your AIM window. This will take you to the Preferences menu. Go to Sign On/Off and deselect Show Today Window at Sign-On).

You can now send an instant greeting to a buddy. But your friend will only get a notification (and not the greeting itself) in the message so this is not much of a great feature. You can also add comments, such as real names and birth dates, to buddy names on your list but these don't pop up when you point your cursor over that buddy's name. You have to select the option from menu to view or edit comments, so birthdays or appointments may come and go and you'd be none the wiser.

Among the real conveniences are the ability to send your Buddy List to a friend (Go to People-Send a Buddy List) and new icons for one-click access to the AIM Today window, preferences menu, and away messages.


The one gesture that corporate users who message behind a proxy server, might appreciate is that AIM 4.7 offers HTTP proxy support which is very easy to set-up, even for starters.

What's missing

You still can't leave offline messages for buddies, or stop people from adding you to their buddy list.

ICQ2001b: My cup runneth over

Right from the instant ICQ begins loading you can start spotting difference-the flower icon now is enclosed within a nice blue square. This is just one of a horde of new additions-smileys and emoticons, new file sharing options, spell checker, translation to your chosen language, setting your ICQ email signature and more.


You can change the color of the background, text or just highlight your message and send it either by ICQ, email or SMS right from the single window you're working in. The latter is pretty convenient, as now you don't have to hunt for or click separate icons to shoot an email or


Another cool new addition is that your friends can now SMS you from their cellphones by just addressing the SMS to +2783142yourICQ#. You can also add your signature showing your online or offline status in the email sent using Outlook or Outlook Express. But this may compromise your privacy a bit.

Sharing files on ICQ is different from all the other messengers now. You now create a directory on your computer that you can share with your friends in your contact list. They can browse and download files from that directory.

If you have your contact list saved on your computer, you can load it on ICQ and vice versa.

Too much to handle

With every version, ICQ comes laden with features and this version is no exception. But this adds to the complications of using this messenger and complexity is one issue that remains, especially for new users.

Neetu Katyal and Shagun Lal