Way back at the beginning of February we looked at IRC (Internet Relay Chat) - A technology used for hosting chat rooms online. This was a very good system if you were curious of the Internet and wanted to learn how to meet new people online, however it was of very little use for keeping in contact with those that you had already acquainted as in these cases you would have found it very inconvenient in terms of knowing whether or not they were online. Therefore, in most cases you would have had to arrange to meet up somewhere in a particular on the system to chat. There have been alternatives available for sometime and I feel it was now about time that I reviewed my personal favourite, ICQ (Pronounced ‘I Seek You’)

Available completely free of charge from www.icq.com, this program is designed to sit in the background and let you know when one of your friends comes online; obviously this would become particularly useful for those with family or friends who are away from home for example. If you can imagine that you have a friend in New York, whenever he were to come online you would have the opportunity to chat to him for the price of a normal phone call to your Internet provider either using the keyboard to type in what you want to say or by speaking into a microphone on your computer. The program is easily installed and once you have decided your password and entered some simple registration information you are given a unique user ID to use. The program isn’t just available for Windows however, there is also support for Java enabled machines, Apple Macs and PalmPilots.

In addition to just being able to chat with one another, you are also able to send and receive files from whoever you are talking to just by dropping the file you wish to sent over their name on your screen and even if the person you want to contact isn’t online, you can still leave a message for them to look at when they do next log on to ICQ.

The idea may sound fairly good in theory, and in reality it works incredibly well - if you know 10 people for example with Internet access and they all have ICQ then whenever you want to discuss a problem or exchange a file you don’t have to e-mail them, instead chat with them in real time online. Another added benefit is that if there is only one phone line in your house and if you want to talk to someone and be on the Internet at the same time, ICQ is the perfect solution.

Personally, I find that one of the most useful features of the program is the ability to enter in the details of all people that you know with a mobile phone so that you can text message them from the main ICQ screen. Not only does this mean that it saves you time typing each message into your mobile but the message is sent from the program free of charge, and in addition, it also means that they can reply to your computer screen free of charge. All people that you send text messages are stored from the main ICQ toolbar

If you don’t happen to know anybody with Internet access, there are many areas on ICQ where you can search for users with similar interests to your own so that you can add them to your contact list and then talk to them online in the future. It is also possible to search via name and location so that you can track down any friends that you haven’t seen for a while, with over 105 million people registered with ICQ, it is likely that someone you know is already registered.

To conclude, ICQ is possibly one of the most useful programs that you could have for keeping in touch with friends and family via the Internet and since it is completely free of charge there is a good incentive to at least give the program a go to see how you like it.


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