A couple of weeks ago, I shared some tips from my new book, iChat AV 2 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide. You’d think that a small, simple application such as iChat would be pretty flat, but in fact Apple’s engineers have tucked in a number of details that are hard to find, or just plain clever. They also made it easy for third-party developers to create add-on utilities that make iChat more useful and fun. Here are some more tips from the book, and a spotlight on a few utilities I use.
Two Audio/Video Tips — Once you’ve established an audio chat, you can minimize the chat window into the Dock to get the window out of the way; click the yellow Minimize button, or press Command-M. This works for video chats too, which is especially good when you’ve initiated a one-way video chat because you only see the video image of yourself (and talking to an image of yourself is just weird).
Also, does the audio coming out of the built-in speakers of your PowerBook G4 or iBook sound tinny or flat? This is by design: to reduce audio feedback from the internal microphone, the sound from audio and video chats comes out of the left speaker only, and in mono. Connect a set of speakers or headphones to improve the quality (though it’s still mono).
Camcorder as Webcam — Although Apple would prefer that you bought an iSight video camera, you can use a FireWire-connected camcorder as your video and audio source – iChat should recognize it automatically. If your camcorder keeps shutting itself off after a few minutes (due to built-in power conservation features), simply remove the tape.
Find Transferred Files on Your Mac — I mentioned last time how you can use iChat AV to send files between people, but I didn’t point out that after a file arrives, the program helpfully displays the file in the Finder. However, iChat offers a similar courtesy for files that you sent off. After you’ve sent a file to someone, if you need to locate it again (perhaps you closed the Finder window it was in), click the link in iChat that was created when you sent the file. A new Finder window appears with the file highlighted.
iChatStatus — You can choose a status message that appears beneath your name in other people’s Buddy Lists, such as "Available" or "Away". You can also create your own messages ("Here, but busy" or "Caffeinated!"). But iChatStatus takes the concept one musical step further. With the iChatStatus preference pane installed, the status message displays whichever song and artist is currently playing in iTunes. You can share your musical tastes with everyone who includes you in their Buddy List. (Not two minutes after I installed iChatStatus on my Mac, an editor friend of mine sent an instant message saying, "Crowded House is my favorite band!")
The iTunes connection is the default action, but it’s not the only possibility. Using AppleScript scripts that come with the utility, you can choose to display a range of information such as the local temperature, your current front-most application, your Mac’s free memory, the current Web page in your favorite browser, the number of unread email messages in Apple’s Mail application, and more. There are even controls for what data appears before or after the automatic message text (such as a musical note, or anything you choose; to display the local temperature, I created a Prefix of "Seattle:" so that my message reads, "Seattle: 47° F").
iChatStatus is free (though donations are accepted by the author), requires iChat and Mac OS X 10.2 or later, and is a 228K download.
iChatter — Looking to relive the scenes in the movie Wargames when the computer program spoke to Matthew Broderick? Install iChatter to have your outgoing and incoming text read aloud using Mac OS X’s text-to-speech voices. If your buddy also has iChatter installed, it honors the voices you’ve both chosen. The developers have also cleverly substituted phrases for smileys, such as "hee hee" for the basic smile, and "winkie winkie" for the winking smile. Sending a URL to someone isn’t as clean, because iChatter spells out the entire thing ("h-t-t-p-colon-slash-slash…"). If you want to put a voice to your text, this is the way to go. iChatter requires the freeware Application Enhancer to run, costs $8 shareware, and is a 1.1 MB download.
Logorrhea — iChat can automatically save transcripts of your text chats – choose this option in the Messages pane of iChat’s preferences to enable the feature. However, what you get is a folder full of .chat files, one for every chat and named according to the participant, date, and time ("Adam C. Engst on 2004-02-16 at 13.56.chat" for example). Double-clicking a file opens it in iChat with iChat’s balloons, icons, and formatting, but what if you’re looking for something specific?
Download and install Logorrhea (a term that means "pathologically excessive talking"), a fantastic stand-alone application for viewing and, more important, searching within those .chat files. I’ve used Logorrhea numerous times when I needed to find a phone number or other information that someone gave me via iChat instead of email. It’s freeware (but donations are accepted), and a 130K download.