The Landscape of Instant Messaging and the Mac 2006

By Xah Lee. Date:

[This article is a short survey of the state of various Instant Messaging networks, and in particular how Mac can be setup to talk to other chat networks. 2010-02-12: This artile is outdated.]

Quite pissed today when trying to do video chat from Mac OS X to friends on Windows. Basically, if you are a Mac user, you can't do vid chat as easily or widely as people using Windows machines. More specifically, if you are a Windows user, you can do video chat with other Windows users through MSN, Yahoo, AIM. While on the Mac, only the Yahoo's Mac OS X program support video chat with other Yahoo users. Good luck if your friend is on other network and is not using a Mac.

World-wide Market Share of all IM

In general, two chat networks cannot talk to each other. For example, if your friend has a MSN account and is using it to do instant messaging (IM), and you are using Yahoo account to do IM, then, you two cannot talk to each other. Here's a survey of the market share of major players.

Basically, the market share in order of number of users are: AIM (53 G), MSN (29 G), Yahoo (21 G), ICQ (20G), QQ (10 G), Skype, Jabber.

G = Giga = million; estimated active users as of 2005. Particularly of interest is QQ, which is used basically only in China.

For detail, see Wikipedia:

Video Chat Status

AIM, MSN, Yahoo, all support video chat. If the two talkers are on the same chat network and using Windows, there's no problem.

On a Mac, to do vid chat takes some tech geeking.

Note that the above assumes you are using OS X 10.4. The video-chatting features in iChat is not in the 10.3 version of iChat.

If your friend would not mind downloading a new program and creating a new account, you both can use SightSpeed for video conferencing.

Voice Chat Status

AIM, MSN, Yahoo, Skype, and Google Talk all supports voice chat. If two talkers are on Windows, they can voice chat no problem using the official chat software.

On a Mac, you are again somewhat fcked. None of the Mac versions support voice chat (except Skype). Google Talk does not even have a Mac version. The Mac multi-network clients Adium and Fire both don't do voice or video.

Again, if your friend is a Mac user, then no problem. You two can have vocal rendezvous using iChat. If your friend is on Windows with AIM, then you can voice chat with her using iChat. If your friend is on Windows with MSN or Yahoo, you are fcked. If your friend is on Google Talk, you are fcked too. If your friend is on Skype, then you can use Skype client for OS X to talk.

In summary, if you want to do voice chat with friends on Windows, get them to have a AIM account and you can use iChat, or get them to have a Skype account and you use the Mac version of the Skype software.

Voice Conference Status

If you are on a Mac, and want to be able to have a multi-person chat between friends or colleagues, your options are:

iChat if everyone has AOL accounts (free).

Skype if everyone has Skype accounts (free). Teamspeak, if everyone has teamspeak accounts (free).

(I have tried iChat and Skype. Haven't tried any other solutions.)

Text Chat Status on the Mac

For plain text chat, on the Mac there's no problem. Every Mac came with iChat, which allows you to talk to friends on AIM/ICQ, Google Talk (Jabber), and other Mac users on .Mac.

Better yet, you can download the Freesoftware Adium ( ), which allows you to IM with friends on any or all other networks (including AIM, MSN, Yahoo), plus, you can have your chat encrypted.

Note: AIM bought ICQ in 1998 and their network has merged. They can mutually talk.

Major IM and their Protocols

AIM uses OSCAR protocol and TOC TOC2. The OSCAR is their proprietary, while TOC is kinda a compatible protocol and largely deprecated.

Yahoo uses their own proprietary protocol.


Google Talk uses Jabber and Jingle. Jabber is a open protocol for text chat. Jingle is a extension Google added to support video chat.

How To Setup your Mac's IChat with AIM or Google Talk

Here's the instruction on setting up your ichat. It assumes you are running OS X version 10.4. The OS X 10.3 does not support chatting to Google Talk users.

If you need to talk to a friend on AIM, then: Pull the menu “iChat:Preferences”, then Accounts. Click on the lower left + button to add a new one. In the Account Type, choose AIM. The screen name there should be your AIM account's id.

Once you are done, exit the preference pane and pull the menu “iChat:Log In to AIM”. Ichat will then try to log you in. To add a friend, click on the + in the lower right, and type in your friend's AIM id. Once her name appears, you can double click on it to talk to her. Or, click on the video button to video chat.

In case you need to know, the AIM server is, and port is 5190.

For Google Talk, the procedure is the same. Here's the info for google talk:

port: 5223

There are 3 more options in the account panel: Connect using SSL, Allow self-signed certificates. Warn before password is sent insecurely. If you don't understand them, check on all of them.

Future Merge Prospects

AIM and ICQ users can mutually talk today. As of today (2006-06), MSN and Yahoo are working on the same, and Google Talk is working towards mutual talk with AIM users.

It may eventually happen as with phone networks, but it's not clear when will chat users actually be able to talk to any other human animal without having to worry about what network they are with. I think it may come perhaps about 2010.


There are several group voice chat programs. Here's some examples:

2012 Update

Today, if you want to multi-chat, voice or video, you can just use Google Plus or Skype.