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Using a browser-based messaging program such as America Online's Instant Messenger is convenient, but you need a dedicated Internet connection to reach the central messaging server. Many small workgroups either lack such a connection or have one that's blocked by network administrators worried about security.

Kanex Group's MacPopUp 2.6 and Glass Bead Software's SnapTalk 2.0 are two inexpensive utilities that let colleagues or small workgroups exchange e-mail­like instant messages over a LAN. MacPopUp does it more elegantly but at a higher cost than SnapTalk, which offers bare-bones but highly effective instant messaging.

MacPopUp and SnapTalk run in the background and scan your network for other available users. MacPopUp runs in Mac OS 9, Mac OS X, and Windows, letting you set up messaging in a cross-platform environment. SnapTalk runs only in Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X.

Both programs offer formatted text, a choice of sounds to play when a message is received, spoken messages, and a chat mode for real-time conversations. SnapTalk has features that let you make customized automatic replies and attach files to messages--options MacPopUp lacks.

On the flip side, MacPopUp allows predefined user groups and linking to URLs from within a message. MacPopUp's spiffy drag-and-drop support lets you click and drag a Web page's URL from your browser into an outgoing message. But MacPopUp's chat mode, which displays only the most recent message from a recipient, isn't nearly as helpful as SnapTalk's continuous log of all messages.

Macworld's Buying AdviceFor large groups of Macs and Windows machines, MacPopUp 2.6, with its cross-platform support and predefined user groups, is worth its higher price. But if all you need is basic Mac-only instant messaging, SnapTalk 2.0 is hard to beat.

Chatterbox SnapTalk 2.0 maintains a scrolling log of all your messages, letting you easily see the context of discussions.
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