Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Instant Messaging

Technophobes stop reading now!

I was persuaded just the other day to try instant messaging. I knew very little about – email has been good enough for me for a long time – but, what the heck, might as well try it.

First problem. I have an aversion to Microsoft products. I have nearly eliminated them from daily use. I use Open Office (open source – free – better than MS Word, Excel) for text, spreadsheets, etc. I use Mozilla Firefox for web browsing (open source - safer by far – lots of excellent features!). I use Mozilla Firebird for email (truly excellent - open source, of course, packed with features and so much more secure than Outlook it borders on the criminally insane for anyone to use Outlook!) For keeping track of the vast family finances, I use a nifty little program called Moneydance (this is not open source, but was quite cheap and it has a Linux version as well - as do Open Office, Firefox and Firebird. This last point is a key part of my backup strategy. Because I have both Windows and Linux installed on my main computer, I can survive when Windows goes belly-up – as it is wont to do. Pretty clever stuff, huh! I just boot to Linux and I can stay working while I try to fix Windows. Pretty good, huh! More about this another time.

So, I looked for an open source alternative to MSN Messenger. What I discovered was:

First Movers & Creators of the Space

ICQ Inc., the successor of Mirabilis Ltd. was created when America Online acquired all Mirabilis' assets on June 1998. Mirabilis was founded in July 1996 when four young Israeli avid-computer users established a new Internet company. Yair Goldfinger (26,Chief Technology Officer), Arik Vardi (27,Chief Executive Officer), Sefi Vigiser (25,President), and Amnon Amir (24, currently studying), created the company in order to introduce a new way of communication over the Internet.

Apparently these young Israelis were streets ahead of Microsoft in 1998 and walloped them over the left field fence with their program, ICQ. Then, in a tried and tested internet statement of solidarity - they sold out to the big boys. In the meantime, Bill Gates wasn't going to take this on the chin, so MS came up with their alternative, MSN Messenger and its predecessors. And, of course, shipped it with Windows.

So, my first instinct was to thumb my nose at MS and Bill and go for ICQ. Before I could, I thought I would look for an open source Linux and Windows compatible program that would fit in with my extra clever back-up strategy. Apparently, there isn't one. Hummmm! OK, I'll go for ICQ then. Wait a minute - had another scout round and found a program called Miranda – it was open source – but with no Linux version. Decided to support the developers anyway and install it. Did. Didn't work. At least I couldn't see how to make it work. Hummmmmmm! (More m's this time!) Finally, in an effort to get started I decided to use the MS program already installed on my computer – it was Messenger version 4.something. OK, even to get this to work I had to open a MS Hotmail account because it would not accept my normal email? But, eventually I was up and running.

If you are a very fast typist and are not easily confused, IM might just be for you. Once you get used to it it's not too difficult to keep up with the conversation – even with more than one person at a time. What's lacking is the time to think and compose some worthwhile statement. Most people are reduced to a very low common denominator simply because they can't think and/or type quickly enough.

That's not the only problem as I learned from a quick search on the net.

Some advice from the Yahoo message site:

Do not harass, abuse, or threaten other members.

  1. Do not post content that is obscene or otherwise objectionable.

  2. Try to stay on topic. If you want to discuss a topic that is not related to the community area in which you are participating, please go to another topic area or create a new one.

  3. Refrain from using these community services for commercial or advertising purposes, or for any illegal purposes. Please do not "spam" or otherwise post in quantity through automated methods..

  4. Don't post content that infringes the legal rights of others, such as material that is defamatory or that makes use of copyrighted content without permission from the owner.

  5. In some areas of our Yahoo! communities (for example, adult clubs and personals) we require you to be of legal age to participate. Please check the terms of service for more details.

  6. Adult-oriented content is permitted only in areas marked as Adult Content areas --- if no such areas exist then adult-oriented content is not permitted at all. (Note: You must be of legal age in your location to access Adult Content areas.)

Good enough advice for any communication, but the implication is clear – not everyone is just trying to keep in touch with friends and family and save on phone calls. You would be wise to only add trusted friends to your list of contacts.

My personal strategy will be to only install the IM on my laptop. Then I can turn it on when and if I have the inkling without interfering with anything else. Once I get the complete hang of it I will search diligently for a dual Linux/Windows open source client to replace the ad-ridden MSN Messenger. I may try to search out other friends who may be into IM without me knowing it.

I'll keep you posted!

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