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Andy IhnatkoIhnatko's Tiger Report: iChat 3

by - April 29th, 2005



Something really clicked with 3.0. I've really never been a Chat sort of guy. To me, chat combines the worst aspects of email and the phone. Just like communicating on the phone, it means that I have to stop what I'm doing and react to it right away. And just like email, I'm stuck typing and typing and typing, instead of just muttering "Oh, I know. You must have been so steamed!" disinterestedly from time to time.

I don't know why, but iChat 3.0 turned my head just a little bit. It's a little slicker and more responsive, true. I think the real reason is unrelated to the actual app. This is the first time I really relied on chat as I worked on a project. Thank God, I wasn't the only poor bastard trying to write about an operating system before it was even halfway working, and I learned as much by crying on the shoulders of fellow seeded people as I did by being the guy offering sympathy.

("It could see the network yesterday!" a noted pundit sobbed. "It was working fine. But then, when I needed it to work...oh, then it's never even heard of iDisk!")

As for the actual new features -- multi-person voice and video chat -- well, they're nice but I suspect that once again, this is a case of a technology getting ahead of a solution. It's cool to be able to do an audio chat with nine other people at once...but how often will people actually use that feature? If you sit down and write a list of every time chat was the best way to get in touch with someone, and then limit it to just those times when it was a group of people, and then go further and figure out how often it was the sort of thing that wasn't better handled with text chat...oh, we forgot to think about the likelihood that all the people you want to talk to will happen to be behind their machines and have a camera plugged in.

...And that they'll be able to get iChat to work. At this writing, my cable provider doesn't recognize the headers in iChat's communication protocol, and blocks it. So while tonight I'll be taking part in at least three different Opening Night parties at three different Apple Stores across the country via the new iChat...I'll be doing it from a Panera Bread franchise and its free WiFi, and not from my office.

Still. I'm not everybody. I don't suppose that I'll ever really use four-way video chat but I'll sure take it for free if it's available.

Though I'm pretty sure that nearly everyone's first multiperson iChat will be exactly like everyone's very first cellphone call: it'll all be about the technology. "What's my frame rate? Can you see me waving? I'm waving! Hey, Doug! Your video is so clear! what's your throughput?"

I'll have no other opportunity to moan about this so I'll talk about it right here: oh, What Might Have Been. We folks who write about Tiger...we're not really in competition. Our publishers are, sure, but I know and like everybody and (I think) they all like me. So when I emailed three other authors who were working on really-prominent Tiger books and suggested a prank...they were on board immediately.

The idea was this: obviously, we all needed to make screenshots of four-way chat for our books. And the only people we could chat with would be fellow folks who'd signed Apple NDAs. What if, no matter what book people picked up over at Barnes and Noble, they always saw a screenshot of the exact same chat, only taken from different points of view? My book would show it from my POV. David Pogue's Missing Manual would show it from his. The "Take Control" book and the Macworld Tiger special newsstand edition...all the same one.

Most readers wouldn't have gotten the joke. But many would have found it pretty damned funny, and the tinfoil-hat brigade would see this as proof that the Kaiser Permanente Group has shadowy tendrils that control all forms of media, and they'd rush to their bunkers.

But all four of us couldn't get iChat working at the same time. We tried three times but...well, I guess it just wasn't meant to be. Maybe it would have sent a conspiracist over the edge and do something highly unfortunate. Maybe Bruce Willis travelled back in time to our era, dressed in his "Twelve Monkeys" suit, and screwed with our routers to make sure it wouldn't work and that the nation would be spared.

Now I'm disappointed that I didn't get to meet Bruce Willis. I would have liked to have met him. Life sucks.

Well, to end this on a happy note, three cheers to iChat for now supporting an open chat standard. Now, everybody gets to play in the same pool, which will be a big help when you're desperately trying to find people with the hardware necessary for this sort of chat.

Ihnatko's Tiger Report

digs the Mac, and has been writing about the Mac for longer than most of us could tell the difference between a bite of Apple Sauce from a byte of Apple code. You can read his monthly column at Macworld magazine, and his blog at the Colossal Waste of Bandwidth.

Andy's latest book is The Mac OS X Tiger Book (US$16.49 - Amazon).

You can send your comments directly to Andy, or you can also post your comments below.

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