Over the years a number of innovations have had a significant impact on the lives of college students. Pens and pencils allowed for prelims without the pain of carving your answers into wood or stone; with the discovery of fermentation, chemistry majors began to be invited to various parties. Yet for the modern college student Instant Messaging programs have significantly changed the way that many of us communicate on campus.
The newest AIM version offers a number of features aimed at enhancing your online experience. The new version contains notifications and invisibility, along with the ability to manage multiple screen names at once. However, these features are not new to the AIM community. AIM first implemented all of them in a number of AIM add-ons and stand-alone messaging programs, which this article attempts to review. The first program on the list is Gaim. Gaim is the leading open-source messaging application. It boasts interpolarity with all the major protocols, meaning you can still talk to your one friend that uses MSN. However, as with many open-source programs, for the average user Gaim is not an adequate alternative. GAIM has limited ability in the arena of file-sharing and direct connections. The UI (user interface) is also rather clunky, although functional.
Trillian is the other major stand-alone messaging application. As with Gaim, it allows communication with users of other messaging programs. Yet, Trillian practices a tiered approach to the messaging programs. It offers a free basic program, yet most of its resources are allocated to a commercial, premium version of its messaging software. Thus, the basic version lags somewhat behind the official version of AIM. Trillian makes up for this with a number of nifty features such as a fully skin-able interface that can manage multiple screen names.
The next few programs require the installation of AIM and additional modification. I prefer this type of enhancement over the standalone program because it maintains the layout of the standard AIM interface. It also supports the functionality of the current version of AIM much more rapidly than the standalone applications. However, these programs don’t allow messaging to non-AOL protocols (so ICQ still works). All the following additions were tested on the old version of AIM. DeadAim is the only program that actually works with the new version; the other add-ons have a tendency to block the ability to instant message anyone at all.
AiMutatation is similar to Trillian in that it allows skinning on the interface. It is the only add-on that can boast this function; however, the skinning is incomplete. Away messages will not be skinned, and frankly, many of the pre-made skins are quite ugly.
Middle_man is the most promising of the add-ons. This program, along with the standard features, has two additional features called scripting and commands. The scripting feature allows you to have away messages and profiles that are dynamic. The command feature is reminiscent of the DOS. With a few keystrokes in any instant messaging window, you can go “away” or add a screen name to your buddy list, all without having to move your hand to the mouse.
DeadAim is the final and most rounded of the AIM add-ons. While this one is the most stable, it does not contain any features that are truly unique. For those users who rely on tabbed windows, DeadAim is a clear choice. The tabs are color-coded to signify the users’ actions (typing, message sent) and the taskbar button actually blinks when any of the windows receives a message. The major downside to DeadAim is that it costs a whopping $5.00 to download.
Overall, most people who use AIM add-ons and alternatives use them for the tabbed browsing, messaging while away, and message logging. I personally use DeadAim and would suggest it to anyone who wants the above specifications. Yet, I am titillated about some of the possibilities that competition can offer.