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Chapter 22: Instant Messaging with Windows MessengerThis chapter discusses how to use Windows Messenger, the instant-messaging software built into Windows XP.
Windows Messenger (hereafter plain Messenger except where we need to be formal provides solid instant-messaging capabilities: You can keep a list of online buddies, see at a glance which of them are online, and communicate instantly with them via text-based chat, voice, and even video (if you have the hardware. You can also transfer files to them and receive files from them.
Messenger has some very nice features. For example, one of the problems in instant messaging is that you can't see when someone is typing a reply to your message. If you send another message while they're trying to reply to you, the conversation can get out of gear. Messenger has an indicator that tells you when one of the people you're chatting with is typing, so that you can choose whether to wait or to go ahead.
Sad to say, Messenger also has a major downside, in that you need to have a Microsoft .NET Passport in order to use Messenger. (In case you haven't run into it yet, Microsoft .NET Passport is a sort of electronic identity.) If you have a Hotmail account, you can use that as your .NET Passport, but there's no other way around the requirement.
This chapter covers the following topics:
- Configuring Windows Messenger
- Adding and removing contacts
- Chatting with one or more people
- Using emoticons in your messages
- Adding voice and video to a conversation
- Blocking and unblocking users
- Transferring files via Messenger
Why Instant Messaging Is HotInstant messaging (IM) is hot because it's a great way to keep in touch with people. The big advantage to IM is that the communication-the conversation, if you will-takes place in real time. If someone is online at the same time you are, you can communicate with them. Like other IM software, Messenger notifies you when your contacts come online (and notifies your contacts when you go online, so you know who's available to chat. The disadvantage to IM, of course, is that the person or people with whom youre communicating need to be online at the same time as you. If theyre not online (or are pretending not to be online, you can't communicate with them.
NOTE At this writing, Microsoft and AOL are continuing tbeir face-off over instant messaging, with AOL refusing to give users of IM software other than its own AOL Instant Messenger AIM) software access to AIM users. This means that if you use Windows Messenger, and your buddy uses AIM, you can't send them instant messages you'll need to install AIM instead. On the plus side, AIM is free, doesn't require that you have an AOL account, and works well. On the minus side well, nobody wants to be compelled to run a particular software package or sign up for a particular network identity, do they?
Starting MessengerTo start Messenger, choose Start -> All Programs -> Windows Messenger. Alternatively, if Messenger is displaying an icon in the notification area, double-click it.
If you haven't added a .NET Passport to your Windows XP user account, Messenger displays a Click Here to Sign In link in its window. Clicking this link starts the .NET Passport Wizard, which shepherds you through the process of adding an existing .NET Passport to Windows XP or getting a new .NET Passport and adding that to Windows. Once you've done that, Messenger signs you in. Once you've started Messenger, it displays an icon in your notification area. Click this icon to display a menu of actions you can take with Messenger.
When Messenger appears on your screen, chances are that it tells you that you don't have anyone in your contacts list and suggests you click the Add button to start adding contacts. (If you've just set Messenger up, your lack of contacts should be no surprise.) Figure 22.1 shows Messenger with a modest number of contacts added. As you can see in the figure, Messenger tells you the number of new messages you have in your Hotmail account (if you have one).
You're probably itching to add some contacts and get on with messaging. But before you do that, configure Messenger by choosing options as described in the next section.
Configuring MessengerMessenger comes with a raft of configuration options. You don't need to set all of them at once (but this section covers them all in case you want to), but you should know about them before using Messenger. At the very least, you should edit your public profile so that you know what information other people can access about you. Choose Tools -> Options to display the Options dialog box, then configure your choice of the options described in the following sections.
Personal Page OptionsThe Personal page of the Options dialog box (shown in Figure 22.2 contains a couple of important settings and a couple of trivial ones.
My Display Name text box
Enter the name you want Messenger to display for you.
Always Ask Me for My Password when Checking Hotmail or Opening Other .NET PassportEnabled Web Pages check box
Select this check box (which is cleared by default if you want to enter your Passport password manually each time it's required by a Web site. Entering the password manually improves your security, but you may find yourself needing to enter the password too often for speedy or comfortable browsing.
Change Font button
Use this button and the resulting Set My Message Font dialog box to specify the font you want to use in IM windows.
Show Graphics (Emoticons) in Instant Messages check box
Clear this check box (which is selected by default if you want to prevent Messenger from displaying emoticons (for example...