capsule review

I customize iChat

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Back in January, I covered Chax, a nifty utility that enhances iChat’s existing features and provides a number of new ones. Another way to tweak iChat is Improv, Pastence’s free iChat Extender 1.4 (   ).

Whereas Chax focuses on functionality, iChat Extender’s specialty is appearance. For example, iChat Extender’s Status screen lets you choose the format of the Current iTunes Track status message; a number of presets are available, or you can create your own format via the Advanced screen.

iChat Extender status screen

The utility’s Style screen lets you change the style of iChat’s Group bars—to a number of different colors and textures—and to change the appearance of the “thought bubbles” that appear when you’re typing messages in iChat.

iChat Extender Groups screen
iChat Extender Bubbles screen

If you’re not a fan of iChat’s “smiley” icons, you can disable them completely via the Smiley’s screen (an option also available in iChat’s View menu), and the Login screen lets you immediately log in to iChat as “Offline” or “Away” instead of the default “Available."

Making a change via iChat Extender generally requires that you restart iChat for the change to take effect. (iChat Extender includes a Restart iChat button, but it didn’t work consistently for me, so I ended up restarting iChat manually.) A backup feature lets you create a backup of your current styles; unfortunately, no instructions are provided for restoring your settings from this backup.

(Note that AIM’s servers will temporarily disable your AIM account if you log out and back in too frequently in a short period of time—something I discovered while testing iChat Extender’s various settings. After a few minutes your account will be enabled again.)

iChat Extender is a simple utility, and one that’s not without a few quirks, but it’s sure to appeal to Mac users who like to customize their computing experience.

iChat Extender works with Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or later and iChat 3.0 and later.

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