Streamline Your iChat Experience

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 5:52 PM
There are a handful of instant messaging applications available for OS X. To name a couple, Adium and Proteus are two popular open source programs. However, I tend to prefer iChat for its simplicity and feel. Out of the box it works very well, but there are definitely ways for you to improve your overall experience with a few fairly simple tweaks.

Chax

This is an iChat add-on that should definitely be considered by every power-user. I love it because it provides multiple levels of functionality missing from the vanilla version of iChat. The killer feature of Chax is that it gives you the ability to merge multiple buddy lists into a single window. Nice! It also supports Growl notifications so you don't have to constantly monitor your IM window if you're doing another task that takes up the whole screen (like browsing the internet). The useful improvements don't stop there. Check out the full list of features on the Chax website.

Add MSN and Yahoo Contacts to iChat

Most Mac users know that you can setup iChat to work with AIM and Google Talk, but did you know that there is a workaround to access your MSN and Yahoo contacts as well? I love this because it gives me the opportunity to get back in touch with friends from outside the US who largely use MSN.

The solution is fairly involved but can be accomplished once-and-for-all by following the step-by-step instructions laid out by our friends over at AppStorm. You're going to need a free program called Psi during the setup but you can delete it once you're done. In a matter of time, you'll have access to all your friends across all networks in one window and that is oh-so-sweet.

Give Your Contacts Custom Buddy Icons

The buddy icons on my contacts list used to look really cluttered. Some of my contacts had that little lightbulb, others had cartoon characters, and still others had pictures that were way too small to make out. I think it looks a lot cleaner to associate each contact with a clear head shot of his or her actual face.


The way to do this is by managing your contacts in your Address Book. Make sure that each contact has their instant messenger handle(s) filled in and drag a good headshot from Facebook or your hard drive onto the box to the left of their name. Remember, the icon shows up in iChat as less than one square centimeter so make sure you crop out everything but the person's face.


Next, go back into iChat and right click on the contact's name. Check the box that says "Always use this picture" and enter their first and last name into the appropriate fields if not done so already. If the icon does not update automatically, you can try restarting Address Book and iChat. Also, if you want the pictures to show up on your contacts list without having to mouseover, make sure you check "Show Buddy Pictures" under the View menu.


This process takes a little bit of time, especially if you have a large contacts list. However, once complete, your contacts' pictures will show up in other programs such as Mail and on your iPhone.

In the future, I'd like to see this process more automated. It only makes sense for the facial recognition software that debuted in iPhoto '09 to be utilized for populating the Address Book with head shots. To be honest, I'm surprised this isn't integrated to OS X already.

It should also be noted that there is a program called AddressBookSync that automatically grabs photos from Facebook to populate your Address Book. However, this solution doesn't work as well as it should and it often misses contacts whose names are spelled slightly differently on your computer than they are on Facebook. However, you may find it useful if you want a quick fix and don't mind pictures that are often too small to make out individual faces.

We hope you've found the tips covered here today useful for enhancing your iChat experience. Let us know what you think. Is all this tweaking necessary or do you just prefer using Adium or some other third party IM application? Do you think Apple should make the experience easier by default or do you like iChat just the way it is? What settings do you use to make iChat the best that it can be? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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