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A few weeks ago, I told you about DockStar, an add-on for OS X’s Mail application that provides better Dock status indicators. In response, I received a number of emails from readers asking if there was something similar for iChat—a way to get more info about incoming chat requests without having to switch to iChat.

I hadn’t seen such a product, but reader Patrick Scott had; he pointed me to the free (donations accepted) Chax 1.2.2 (   ), which does this and much more. In fact, it adds a number of features to iChat that people have been requesting for quite a while now.

Once you install Chax, iChat’s new settings appear in a Chax tab in iChat’s own preferences dialog, categorized in several tabs: User List, Chats, Away, and Notifications. The last of these is where you can choose to have iChat’s Dock icon display either the number of unread iChat messages or the name(s) of the senders of unread messages. The Dock icon can display up to four names, and you get to choose the color of these “badges” and decide whether or not they flash.

Chax Notifications

The only issue with the “name” badge is that there’s generally room only for the message sender’s first name:


Chax’s other tabs provide many other useful settings. The User List tab lets you choose the font and size (although not the color) of Buddy List names and status messages. You can also choose to show nicknames from Address Book instead of “formal” names, to hide iTunes music store links when your Buddies are using iChat’s “Current iTunes Track” status message, and to hide your audio/video status (so other people won’t bug you to AV chat with them).

Custom fonts in the Buddy List

Standard name display

Chax-provided nickname display

Chax’s Chats tab lets you automatically accept text chats (so you don’t have to hit “Accept” before you can reply); lets you auto-accept file transfers; and can warn you before you send a text message to a mobile phone user—a thoughtful touch, given that many people still pay to receive mobile messages. You can gain access to otherwise-unavailable iChat settings, such as the display of the “smiley” button and the confirmation dialog you see if you try to quit iChat while messaging windows are open. An interesting feature displays a Buddy’s status changes right in message windows (which also means those status changes are saved in iChat log files).

Finally, the Away tab lets you modify your Away auto-response and can automatically set your status to Away after a period of time that you choose.

Unfortunately, figuring out all of Chax’s features is a bit of a challenge, since it doesn’t include any documentation. I discovered a few features by reading the feature list on the Chax Web site and then searching for things within iChat—it turns out that some of Chax’s features are actually found in new additions to iChat’s menus. For example, the ability to toggle the status line for each of your Buddies is found in the View menu, and Chax’s not-yet-functional-but-promised-for-a-future-version Log Viewer is found in iChat’s Window menu. Some other features that users might never discover include:

  • Each Buddy’s idle time is displayed in the tooltip that appears when you hold the mouse cursor over the Buddy’s name.
  • If you have a contact with multiple screen names, you can choose which name to message.
  • Better compatibility with ICQ accounts by stripping all formatting from messages.
  • Complete history of Buddy status changes via the Activity window.

Still, Chax provides a enough obvious enhancements to iChat that it’s worth trying; if you find more features hidden inside, even better. Heavy chatters should check it out.

Chax requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later.

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