| By Scott Spanbauer |
Instant messaging lets you communicate with friends and coworkers in a jiffy, but each different network uses its own software.
Universal instant-messaging programs let you connect to lots of different services to chat and transmit files, audio, and video, all from the convenience of a single application.
Get a handle on the messaging mess
America Online’s AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and its sister service ICQ are two of the biggest and most popular IM offerings. Yahoo Messenger and Microsoft’s MSN Messenger likewise have millions of subscribers.
Each of these services provides Web-hosted chat interfaces and downloadable, standalone client software for one-to-one and group chats. They also let you share files and audio and video connections.
Even Google has recently jumped on the IM bandwagon via its text-only Google Talk service. All these offerings are free and generally work without a hitch whenever you’re ready to chat it up.
The only real drawback to using one of the IM networks is that — like estranged relatives — they don’t talk to each other. In order to chat with your AIM buddies, you need to log in to the AIM network. Talking to Yahoo subscribers requires a separate login to that system; messages from one of these networks can’t reach subscribers on the other networks.