Although ICQ requests a great deal of information during registration (such as your gender, date of birth, geographical location, and other personal details), it's all optional; ICQ requires only your name and a valid e-mail address. Unfortunately, ICQ accounts won't work within other IM clients--ironic, since ICQ is owned by AOL--but you can use software such as Trillian to mix messengers.
ICQ's interface is straightforward. Use the Add/Find button to add friends and colleagues to your list, then simply double-click the desired entry to start a message session. Emoticons and various text fonts and colors spice up your messages. You can also launch video chat, exchange files, and insert Web URLs.
Whereas AOL focuses AIM on business users, the latest ICQ includes with a wealth of new creature comforts for everyday users. There's even a spell-check option. The Xtraz toolbar slides out on demand to send a greeting card, play a game, or manage your message photo or avatar.
The new interface also allows for keyboard shortcuts to preferred features, such as Ctrl+M for a new message to a selected contact, along with the ability to customize ICQ's appearance, including changing skin colors. A system tray notification announces a new message along with the photo or avatar of the sender, so a quick look will help you decide whether to respond immediately (by clicking the tray notification) or wait till later. Another feature we liked sets an alert--a flashing birthday cake--next to a friend's name on your contact list on that birthday; simply click the cake to open a message window with a special birthday background and a greeting card option. ICQ supports multiple users in a chat. Users running Windows XP with any Webcam can also participate in one-on-one video chat sessions with ICQ Video. ICQ is available for mobile phones. Future development should soon support foreign language character sets, but for the moment ICQ supports only English.
The ICQ site includes a comprehensive help page with extensive FAQs on topics ranging from downloading and installation to finding other ICQ users online to security and privacy issues. ICQ also accepts support questions via e-mail. ICQ responded to our test e-mail within several hours.