TMO Reports - Apple's iChat Meets Mixed Reaction From Mac Users

by , 8:00 AM EDT, May 17th, 2002

During last week's World Wide Developer Conference, Apple introduced the next major revision of Mac OS X, code named Jaguar. One of the features of the new OS is an Instant Messaging application called iChat, which Apple said would be built into Jaguar.

iChat is based on AOL's AIM network, and allows iChat users to talk to AIM's 150 million users, as well as AOL users, even if the iChat user doesn't have an AIM or AOL account. Currently only AIM and AOL account holders can use this network. iChat users can also talk to other iTools account holders. iTools is a suite of online services Apple offers to users of Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X.

Many Mac users have said they will embrace the software. "I like Apple's other iApps," graphic designer Mark Walling, told TMO. "I'll definitely be trying iChat." This is a sentiment expressed by many throughout the Mac community.

Other Mac users have expressed reservations about the new software. While many of the negative comments might be dismissed as the uncertainty that comes with the fear of change, there are three issues that have been consistently raised: 1.) Can I turn off the interface?, 2.) I want to be able to use other IM networks with this, and 3.) Can I turn off iChat if I don't want to use it?

The screen shot that Apple has released [Link Corrected] of the new product shows users talking to each other using dialogue bubbles for each message, with photographs of the person speaking next to each bubble. Some users call this a "dumbed down" interface, and want to know if other interface options will be available. [Note that ThinkSecret has published additional screen shots of iChat today.]

"It almost looks like a parody," says TMO forum member x136. "I dislike those blasted buddy icons [in AIM] already, and now they want us to use this? I hate to say it, but it almost looks like that stupid comic book looking IRC client that Microsoft put out a few years ago, only more lickable."

There are also many Mac users who would like to be able to communicate with users of MSN Messenger, ICQ, and other IM networks. A spirited debate broke out in Apple's own support forums, with Joan Alba declaring: "Unless iChat supports the Messenger protocol, I will be one Mac user that won't touch that application. What for? Everyone is in the MSN [Messenger]." An anonymous poster from our own forums said much the same thing: " It would be really nice if it worked with ICQ also. Then I would only have the one IM app."

There is a Mac OS X application called Fire that communicates across the ICQ, MSNM, AIM, Jabber, and Yahoo! Instant Messenger networks. Proteus also offers these services to Mac OS X users, while on the Windows side, Trillian takes a similar approach to Instant Messaging.

The other question that has arisen is whether or not users can turn off iChat. Apple announced that iChat would be "built into Mac OS X." This brings to mind images of Microsoft's own attempts to capture market share in the browser and IM markets by building Internet Explorer, MSN Messenger, and other applications into Windows XP, and earlier versions of Windows. This perception among some Mac users has been influenced, in part, by the fact that iChat will operate out of the menu bar in Mac OS X. When the program is in use, it can be accessed from controls set in the menu bar.

"I teach in a college computer lab situation," said one anonymous poster in the TMO forums, "and it is always a problem with students doing their instant messaging instead of listening. We solve the problem by removing AIM in Netscape. Now what will we do when it is built into the system?"

This issue has been repeated in other message boards throughout the online Mac community, but at least at this point in Jaguar's development, iChat will not be taking over your Mac. From a source who has been working with Jaguar and iChat: "iChat needs to be launched to run, and it can be turned off like any other app." The Mac Observer was able to confirm this with other sources familiar with Jaguar.

This is in stark contrast to Microsoft's approach towards application integration. Internet Explorer, MSN Messenger, and other Windows technologies are impossible for most Windows users to turn off, or even remove. Microsoft's commingling of middleware and the OS has been at the heart of some of the issues involved with Microsoft's antitrust trials. The 9 dissenting states and Washington D.C. have been trying to broaden the case to include Microsoft's efforts to tie more of its middleware into Windows itself.

Apple has had great success with iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto, and iDVD, and the majority opinion from the Mac community ranges from one of cautious or enthusiastic support for iChat to those who are willing to at least give it a try. From an anonymous poster: "I will use it if it is better then the alternatives. There are some really good clients already but none of them have my complete satisfaction, I am hoping that Apple will deliver. I love all the other Apps that apple has made for consumers and pros."