Apple’s iChat application is commonly used by Mac owners, but are all of its features truly being taken advantage of? The first part of MacYourself’s “Getting to know iChat” double feature covers techniques that improve the overall iChat experience.
Bundled with Mac OS X since 10.3 Panther, iChat is an instant messaging application that supports text, audio, and video chats, as well as screen sharing (in 10.5 Leopard). It works with AIM, MobileMe, Jabber, and Google Talk accounts so you can chat with friends, family, and co-workers across a number of platforms. One of iChat’s greatest strengths is its simplicity, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some hidden or barely-used features for more ambitious users.
Launch without signing in
Normally, clicking on the iChat icon in the Dock opens the program and automatically signs in to your IM accounts. This is preferred most of the time, but not always – especially when you want to hide from certain buddies. To launch the iChat application without signing in, hold down Shift while clicking the iChat icon. When you are ready to sign in, just click on the Offline drop-down menu in the buddy list to choose your status.
Line breaks in chats
It can be a bit of a mystery how to create line breaks in your messages while chatting to your buddies. In most programs, hitting the Enter/Return key does the trick. Of course, this is not the case in iChat since Enter/Return is used to send messages. The solution for adding line breaks to your chats is instead to press Option+Enter.
Check buddy capabilities
Although iChat is fully-featured and able to do a ton of cool stuff, that doesn’t always mean you’re able to take advantage of all that it offers. Sometimes you’re limited by what your buddy’s IM client can do. If he or she is running the latest version of iChat as well, you’re in good shape. If not, there is a way to check what each of your buddies are capable of. Select a contact in the buddy list and go to Buddies > Show Profile in the menu bar. Under the Capabilities section, you will see things like Buddy Icon, Chat, Receive Files, Direct IM, etc. Those are fairly universal. What you may not find with some people are the more advanced features like audio chat, video chat, and screen sharing.
Starting a group text chat
Group text chats can get a little out of control sometimes, but they’re still fun. Initiating them, though, is not always obvious. To start a chat with a bunch of your buddies in the same “room,” select each of their names in the buddy list (while holding the Command key) and then click on the A button at the bottom of the window. Type your message and it will be sent as an invitation for everyone to join the chat.
Continue receiving messages after quitting
After quitting iChat, you’re usually logged out of your account and unable to receive messages or look at your buddy list. With the iChat menu bar icon, however, the opposite is true. If you go to iChat Preferences, check “Show status in menu bar” and then uncheck “When I quit iChat, set my status to Offline,” you can stay logged in to your IM account even if iChat is not running. A small chat balloon icon will be displayed in the menu bar at all times which enables you to set your status, check your buddy list, and receive messages while iChat itself stays quit.
Continue reading the second part of “Getting to know iChat” to find out about ways you can customize and tweak iChat to your liking.