Ten fingers, a computer and Internet access -- that's all that you need to chat to friends and acquaintances from around the globe. All of the popular instant messaging (IM) programs are now available through a standard Web browser.
Gone are the days where chatting on a computer other than your own only worked if that computer happened to have the same messenger software and operating system.
Web messengers allow the chat-happy to shoot the breeze -- even from behind firewalls and on office and Internet cafe computers that are guarded against software installations.
The first step to launching a chat is to check the browser's popup blocker. It must be set to allow for the IM site to launch the extra window it needs to manage contacts and conversations.
In MSN Web Messenger, you can set your status before you even log in. If you want to check to see whether certain friends are online before "officially" logging in, you can go online in the "invisible" mode.
You can not only chat with your contacts, but manage them as well.
Smileys and e-mail, both composing and receiving, are also on hand.
Users of MSN and its successor Live can also talk with chatters using Yahoo Web Messenger and vice-versa, since the protocols are compatible.
Each chat in Yahoo's simple IM page is opened in a new window or tab in the browser.
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
Anyone who values privacy should decide prior to the chat whether to allow the chat sessions to be recorded for later reading. This function is activated by default and can be deactivated as desired using the "message archive" tab in the upper right of the browser window.
AOL and its AIM Web messenger lets chats get started right away with members of the "Buddy" list as soon as the standard login is performed.
A Telegram function sends particularly urgent messages in a separate window to the conversation partner.
Mails can also be sent with the user's own AIM address, and there's even a handy calendar function available.
As with MSN and Yahoo, AIM and ICQ form a mutually compatible pair.
The latter is available in Web Messenger form as ICQ2Go, although it does rely on Flash.
The user is greeted with a cuckoo chirp, and the option for users to anonymously login is also supported.
There are also privacy buttons to make a user appear to be invisible if he or she wants to remain undisturbed, and the contact manager works flawlessly.
Sometimes a chatter's circle of friends doesn't conveniently use compatible messenger programs. One way to work around this problem is to use a messenger with multi-protocol abilities.
While many users are familiar with downloadable versions of this software such as Gaim or Trillian, there are also Web solutions available.
One of several such talented multi-messengers is Meebo.
The page offers parallel login for MSN, Yahoo, AIM and ICQ, as well as Google Talk and Jabber. It automatically connects the user to each of the networks and allows conversations without any protocol worries.
It also offers another benefit over the original services: file transfer.
Files can be loaded onto the Meebo server, with the recipient offered a link to download them, even if he or she doesn't have an account. Not only that, but the messenger is also available as a Firefox extension.
Other multi-messengers include the simple but effective ebuddy and the brightly colored Kool IM, providing not only links to almost any IM standard worldwide, but also the ability to let users know what games friends on the contact list are playing at the time.