| Multitasking: these days, it's a necessary part of any job and of daily life. So the ability to have a phone conversation while sending several instant messages simultaneously can sometimes make or break a business deal--or your date for Friday night. Instant messaging is fast, convenient, and--dare we say--entertaining, whether you use it at work, at home, at school, on the go, or even on your cell phone. |
We looked at four leading instant messenger (IM) apps: AOL AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger, our Editors' Choice. All are free, although AOL and MSN offer additional features for a price. All are primarily geared toward casual Internet use (AOL AIM offers several business-related features as add-ons) but work acceptably in an office environment as well. In our reviews, we examined these apps' strengths and weaknesses with regard to setup and interface, feature set, and customer service.
Unfortunately, none of these chat apps allows you to talk to friends registered with other services. In other words, your AIM account can't talk to you best friend's Yahoo account--that is, unless you use another piece of software, such as Trillian. Trillian breaks the chat app monopolies by supporting all four major IMs: AIM, ICQ, MSN, and Yahoo, aggregating your accounts on each into one interface.
If you're concerned about security risks with instant messaging, specifically about buffer-overflow attacks (a common means of penetrating PC defenses) and spim (IM spam), you could try IMsecure, a security product from the people who make the ZoneAlarm firewall. It's the only product of its kind, and it works with AIM, ICQ, MSN, and Yahoo chat apps.
Use our handy chart to compare the features and setup requirements of the Big Four chat apps.
| ||AOL AIM 5.5 ||Yahoo Messenger 6.0 ||MSN Messenger 6.2 ||ICQ 4.1
|Editors' rating ||7.6 ||8.0 ||7.3 ||8.0
|Registration information ||Asks somewhat intrusive questions ||Asks less-intrusive questions ||Asks extremely intrusive questions ||Asks personal information that is optional
|What you can customize ||Backgrounds ||Backgrounds, skins ||Backgrounds ||Skins, backgrounds, keyboard shortcuts
|Business features ||Lightbridge Web-based conference calling ($); WebEx Web-based video- conferencing ($) ||Video and voice ||Video, voice, and whiteboard ($) ||Voice and video
|Works with mobile phone ||Yes, 2-way ||Yes, 2-way ||Yes, 2-way ||Yes, 2-way
|Technical support ||E-mail (24-hour response), FAQ ||FAQs only ||Forum, e-mail, FAQ ||E-mail (24-hour response), FAQ
Note: $ denotes services that require additional fees.
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