One of the things sweeping Europe and Asia (and heading this way like a bullet train) is the use of "SMS" messaging, or "Short Message Service."
These short text messages are sent to users of wireless phones and are used sort of as a mobile version of instant messaging. To say this is sweeping the world is an understatement. Tens of millions of SMS messages are sent each day around the world. (Wireless phone use is much more widespread overseas than in the United States.)
There also are Web interfaces now for SMS messages, so users can send text messages from their PCs to cell phones and vice versa.
This is coming along slowly in America, but watch out.
In the meantime, ICQ, the instant-messaging service now owned by AOL Time Warner, has launched a built-in SMS feature to the popular ICQ service.
From ICQ, you can send SMS messages to people all over the world. All you do is hit SERVICES, then SMS Message. For a listing of the wireless services that support the interface and for details, head to www.icq.com/sms/
I also took the opportunity to download all four of the most popular Instant Messaging programs out there and do some comparison.
I have used ICQ and AOL's Instant Messenger for years. I have been signed up for MSN's Messenger for years as well but have rarely used it. And I was brand-new to Yahoo's Messenger product.
Let's take them one at a time:
- ICQ is easy to install but a bit of a pain to upgrade from one version to a newer version. There's a manual backup of your database files involved and it can be hairy to remember all the details. AOL has done a good job of staying out of the way of ICQ and letting its loyal users keep suggesting improvements. (But how long can AOL have two competing systems?)
Finding others on the system is easy but I am often sent X-rated spam that I can't block. Also, the file transfer function (sending files directly to another person) can be flaky.
- AOL Instant Messenger (also known as AIM) is the big guy on the block because you automatically have it if you are one of AOL's 28 million subscribers. You also can sign up if you are not on AOL. If you sign up with a female name you are more likely to get guys hitting on you, which can be a plus if you are a lonely adult - and a minus for your 12-year-old daughter.
-Yahoo's product installed like a snap. I found some friends and the chatting was easily accomplished. Could not send or receive files; when I logged on to chat live with an online "helper" I got the exact answer: "it hardly ever works."
- MSN's product was the weakest of the bunch. It seems relatively few people are on it and it is less intuitive to use. Sending files to others on MSN was easy.
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