Messaging system for global chatterboxes
Most of us who work in a network environment have a messaging system to contact others in the office.
It can be handy and time-saving. Instead of having to run up several flights of stairs to ask if a colleague has the picture I asked for, I can send a message on my computer terminal.
Depending on how the system is set up, I can determine who is in the office and not chase after those who are absent.
Now there is a system on the Internet that allows you to do the same thing on a global scale, as if the whole world was one office.
ICQ was started by a company called Mirabilis and it seems to be doing well. The idea - like so many successful ones on the Internet - is simple.
ICQ has a database of all its members. Upon joining, you download the software version suited for your computer. There are versions for Windows machines, the Macintosh, and a Java version that runs on Linux and, presumably, Solaris.
So, you have downloaded ICQ, now what? First of all, you can look for friends. ICQ puts a little box on your screen that always remains visible. On the box are some settings, including one for looking up friends.
You click on 'find a friend' and then type in the e-mail address or ICQ number - if you happen to know it. If your friend is not a member of ICQ, you will be sent a message asking if you want to send an e-mail to your friend about joining ICQ.
He or she will get a short e-mail that points to the Mirabilis Web page.
Assuming you have a few friends join up, what then? Each member of ICQ gets a number. Mirabilis says there are more than nine million subscribers, 400,000 users on-line simultaneously, 50,000 new subscribers a day and 2.5 million unique users.
You can broadcast to the world almost everything there is to know about yourself, or you can keep it short.
I have no desire to join a 'random chat', that is, to allow myself to be approached by anyone on the system. I use it to talk to people I know. But if you are more daring, you can join a random chat.
When I dial into my ISP, my little ICQ box jumps to life and tells me who of the people on my contact list are now logged on. I can double-click on a 'live' name and send a short message, or request a chat session.
My friend, on the other hand, can broadcast that he is not available, or will take only urgent messages, or whatever.
ICQ even keeps a history of what is said. I can go back and look at a conversation.
I write this report while sitting totally jet-lagged in a New York hotel room at 3 am. I just logged on and found a friend who was live on ICQ. I urgently needed some information that my computer swallowed up somewhere over the Pacific.
I gave my friend the information, he rang someone who could help and, in a few minutes, I had what I wanted. All this was done without having to make several long-distance calls to Hong Kong. Now that is a great system.
I have run ICQ on both my Mac and my portable Sony that runs Windows 95.
There is almost no difference between them. The Windows version possibly is a little more advanced than the Mac version, but not by much.
If you have friends or relatives abroad and you want to know when they are on-line, then I recommend ICQ.
It is a gem of an idea and seems to work almost perfectly.
I have touched on only some of the ideas the people at Mirabilis have, so go to www.mirabilis.com and check them out. You will enjoy it.
PROS AND CONS Product: ICQ Price: Freeware (for the time being) Platform: Windows, Macintosh, Java Pros: Messaging system for frequent Net users Cons: Can encourage talkative friends