Book Excerpt: JDS Instant Messenger (IM)

by Tom Adelstein

Editors' Note: The following is an excerpt from Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop, a new book co-authored by Tom Adelstein and Sam Hiser and published by O'Reilly and Associates.

JDS Instant Messenger (IM)

Instant messaging, sometimes called chat, has moved from primarily a teenager's social medium to an important communication tool for professionals. It complements email and traditional tools such as the telephone, in many collaborative settings. One key benefit of instant messaging in a business context is the speed and immediacy it offers for making contact and exchanging information through the desktop, at no cost.

Many different forms of instant messaging are offered by large Internet providers and other services. Luckily, the instant messaging tool in JDS supports many of them. JDS's Instant Messenger is based on gaim, a multiprotocol Internet chat client. Instant Messenger is located in JDS under Launch > Applications > Internet > Instant Messenger.

Through JDS's Instant Messenger, you can chat with members of any of the following instant messaging and chat networks:

  • AOL Instant Messenger ("AIM")

  • ICQ

  • IRC

  • Jabber

Chat services or protocols not supported by JDS include:

  • MSN

  • Yahoo!

  • Zephyr

Previously, software limited instant messaging participants to communicate only with members of their own network, where they shared the same communication protocol. For example, only a short time ago, AIM members could chat only with other AIM members but not Jabber members. Now programs such as JDS's Instant Messenger are solving the fragmentation of the instant messaging networks.

With Instant Messenger, you can maintain accounts with multiple instant messaging networks and change instant messaging services as you chat with different buddies, or even run chat sessions from different networks simultaneously. It's still impossible, however, to hold a single multiperson chat session with people across different chat networks, because the instant messaging services still use different protocols.

If you absolutely must chat with members of certain chat networks that are unsupported by JDS's Instant Messenger, you may be able to solve the problem by downloading additional software. JBuddy Messenger is another multiprotocol chat client that works with several IM networks, not covered by JDS's Instant Messenger, including AIM, ICQ, JBuddy, Lotus Sametime, MSN, and Yahoo!.

Help for downloading and installing JBuddy Messenger is available online at Sun's JDS Support Forum. JBuddy Messenger software is located at www.zionsoftware.com.

IM Setup

Here we cover the procedures necessary to set up your Instant Messenger account.

Sign up a new account, get a screen name

To use Instant Messenger, first you need to have a Screen Name or sign up to create a new account and Screen Name with one of the above-mentioned instant messaging networks. Table 1 tells you where to go to set up your account and Screen Name among the various networks. Take your pick.

Table 1. Where to Go to Set Up Your Account

Chat networkSign up for a screen name
AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)my.screenname.aol.com
ICQweb.icq.com/register
Jabberwww.jabber.org/user/userguide/#register
Netscape/AIMIf you already have an @netscape.net email address, your existing Netscape email USER ID and PASSWORD functions as your IM Screen Name and Password.

Technically oriented users may enjoy reading up on the different instant messaging protocols available, since the services and functionality that each one offers varies. Each of the web sites for the instant messaging services provides useful information on its respective network, protocol, and features. There is also a useful (although incomplete) survey of the different instant messaging and chat protocols on the gaim software developers' web site.

Go to the Screen Name registration page of your chosen chat network and follow the procedure there for establishing a Screen Name and Password. Typically, you are asked to provide an email address and possibly additional information such as your birth date.

Once you have established your Screen Name, you can set up your account in Instant Messenger and begin chatting.

Account setup

To set up your first chat account, open the JDS Instant Messenger program via Launch > Applications > Internet > Instant Messenger. The Login window appears. Enter your Screen Name and Password in the respective fields. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Awaiting Screen Name and Password Input

In the Screen Name field, the phrase "<New User>" indicates that you have no Instant Messenger accounts set up yet. Highlight the phrase and press the Delete key or just type your Screen Name over it while it's highlighted. Then press the Tab key, enter your Password, and click the "Sign on" button. This immediately opens the Buddy List window on your desktop, and you are ready to chat. This also establishes your default Instant Messenger account, which the program remembers the next time you open the program. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Entering Screen Name and Password

Users sometimes have difficulty logging in if they do not adhere to the upper- or lowercase pattern originally established in their Screen Name or Password. Your chosen chat network determines whether your Screen Names and Passwords are case-sensitive.

You can see the first (default) IM account information in Figure 3, which you automatically entered when you first performed account setup.

Figure 3. Instant Messaging Account Information

You may have additional different instant messenger accounts and Screen Names by which others know you on a different chat network. To add one or more of such accounts to your JDS Instant Messenger program, go to the open Buddy List window (this window is always open and on your desktop when you start Instant Messenger) and select Tools > Accounts, which opens the Accounts window. Here you can add additional IM accounts, as necessary.

IM Basics

Here we cover the basic tools for using JDS's Instant Messenger.

Sign on

Once your Screen Name and Password are entered into the Login window correctly, click the "Sign on" button. Your Buddy List appears on your desktop, and you are logged into Instant Messenger.

If you are on a network behind a firewall, such as a company's local area network, it may be difficult for you to sign on to Instant Messenger. In such circumstances, consult your system administrator, who may be able to configure a proxy.

Note that upon each subsequent occasion when you open Instant Messenger, your default Screen Name and Password is entered and all you need to do is click "Sign on." Even this step can be bypassed, as we see in the next section.

When you first open the program and see Buddy List, the main window is blank. The Buddy List, shown in Figure 4, already contains one Group called "OSSI & OGIP." Later, we discuss how to manage Buddies and Groups.

Figure 4. Buddy List

Auto-login

You can save a keystroke by setting up Auto-login, if you want Instant Messenger to automatically log you in when you first open it. In Buddy List, go to Tools > Accounts to open the Accounts window. There, the Auto-login column is second from the right. You can check the box of the account or accounts for which you want to establish auto-login.

Auto-login saves a few extra mouse-clicks at the start of each IM session and is especially useful if you have a single, default, IM account that you use all the time; it's also useful to signal to your Buddies that you're available for "IM-ing."

Keep in mind that auto-login has its drawbacks. Logging into your IM account always signals to other "IM-ers"--those who have your Screen Name entered into their Buddy Lists--that you are at your workstation and available to chat. In many cases, such as when you are very busy, you may not want to signal to others that you are available, since an instant message from them might be distracting. At times like this, you may want to open your Instant Messenger program to see who among your Buddies is online, but you would like to stay "offline" to them. In this case, auto-login would add mouse-clicks to your workflow. So, your "Auto-login" settings are worth some consideration and should optimally be based on what you prefer to do most of the time.

Begin to chat

If you know someone's Screen Name on the instant messaging service that you signed up with, you can begin chatting immediately. (It's probably more efficient to add them into your Buddy List immediately, especially if you will be chatting with them in future. See the section "Adding buddies.")

At the bottom of the open Buddy List window on your desktop, click the IM button on the extreme left. The New Message window opens (Figure 5) and prompts you for a Screen Name. Enter the other party's Screen Name and click OK.

Figure 5. The New Message Window

This opens a Conversation window, shown in Figure 6, and you're ready to begin an instant messaging session.

Figure 6. The Conversation Window

See in Figure 7 how the window is labeled gpbazzini. That is the Screen Name of the person with whom you are about to chat. Note also the tab at the upper left of the upper panel, which is also labeled with the other chat party's Screen Name. When you are holding multiple chat sessions at the same time, the tabs come in handy, allowing you to move easily among the different conversations. Opening a single chat session with multiple parties is a different capability (discussed later in the section, "Multiparty chat.")

Type text into the bottom window (where the cursor sits when the window first opens) and press Enter. Each time you press the Enter key, the latest message you typed is transmitted to the IM session partner's Conversation window, assuming she is logged on to the instant messenger service on her workstation. Her replies will come right back in sequence into your Conversation window.

The Buddy List

In the context of instant messaging, a "buddy" is someone with whom you regularly want to chat. A buddy could be a spouse at their workplace, a sibling, a best friend, an acquaintance, or a work colleague. Often one's Buddy List includes many, if not all, of those kinds of people. Later, we'll show how to organize buddies into groups.

The Buddy List is critical to productive chat. Without it, you would need to remember all friends' or colleagues' Screen Names, which would add many unnecessary key-strokes and likely make you quickly lose interest in IM.

The Buddy List is also the departure point for making most adjustments to your account, preference, and privacy settings in your JDS Instant Messenger program.

Adding buddies

To add a Buddy, go to your Buddy List window (Figure 4) and select Buddies > Add a Buddy. This opens the Add Buddy window (Figure 7), where you can enter the Screen Name and Alias of your Buddy.

Figure 7. The Add Buddy Window

The Alias is your label for that Buddy as it is later listed visibly in your Buddy List. For example, in Figure 8, the alias Tom represents Tom Adelstein, the coauthor of this book, whose Screen Name is not as easy for Sam to mentally associate with him. The longer your Buddy List, the more important it is to create easy Aliases.

Figure 8. The Buddy List with Groups Displayed

The Alias feature is useful because it is often not easy to recognize someone by his or her Screen Name. For example, with the hypothetical Screen Name Moochy007, it is easy to forget the real person behind it. On the other hand, some people are impossible to forget.

Begin to chat with buddies

To start a chat session with someone in your Buddy List, go to the Buddy List and double-click the Alias of the Buddy with whom you'd like to chat. This action calls up a Conversation window, ready for your input. Type in your message, then press Enter, to transmit. Away you go.

Add a group

As said earlier, you can find your buddies more easily if you organize them into groups. To add a new group to your Buddy List, go to your Buddy List and select Buddies > Add a Group. This opens the Add Group window into which you can enter the name you make up, then press the Add button. Use a naming scheme that helps you quickly identify the different Groups that you establish over time in your Buddy List. Figure 8 shows a Group called "OSSI & OGIP."

The Conversation window

When you or one of your correspondents starts an instant messaging session, as we have shown, a Conversation window is active. Your keyboard entries appear in the lower window as you type. When you press Enter after typing, your input is sent to your partner. It also appears in your upper window after a parenthetical time-stamp, followed by your Screen Name, both of these in a color that distinguishes your own contributions to the conversation from your partner's.

The Conversation window also offers tabs representing the different chat conversations that are open simultaneously. Each tab is labeled with the other party's Screen Name. You can maintain multiple chat sessions with different people, while using the tabs to navigate from one to another. The people on the respective other ends do not know you are chatting with others.

If you have multiple instant messaging accounts and are logged on to more than one at once, the Conversation window menu offers a useful Send As feature, which permits you to change the account that you send a message from. You could change Screen Names in mid-chat, but this may only achieve confusion. It is more likely you will start multiple sessions using different services.

Conversation Text Customization

The Conversation window lets you change the size and the color of your message text, as well as providing the usual bold and italic forms. Font customization features are accessed among the buttons that are between the upper and lower panes within the Conversation window.

Conversation inserts

The Conversation window offers buttons permitting you to insert image files and hyperlinks to web content you want to refer to in a message. There is also a button to insert a variety of smiley faces to liven up your IM communications. The insert buttons are located between the upper and lower panes, at the right.

What's that little keyboard icon in the top right?

This mysterious icon, which comes and goes, is one of the most interesting and useful design features of Instant Messenger. The little keyboard icon is like a busy signal. When it appears, it signals that the person with whom you are chatting is typing on his keyboard.

In a conversation, it is often polite to wait until the other party is finished talking before one speaks; otherwise you interrupt, which may be considered rude. So too in instant messaging and chat: if you see the other party is typing, you may do well to wait until they have sent their message to respond.

Multiparty chat

Instant Messenger permits chat with many participants at the same time. A host, the person who first creates a multi-party chat session, invites other individuals to join it. The host must first go to her Buddy List and select Buddies > Join a Chat. This opens the Join Chat window where the host:

  • Selects which of her accounts to join

  • Enters a name for the multi-party chat session

  • Sets the Exchange number (4 is the default)

IM Power Tips

Instant Messenger offers numerous features and configuration preferences. In this section, we highlight just a few interesting ones. As always, you can gain a lot by spending a few minutes exploring the application's settings, buttons, and menu items to learn about features that may enhance your own ways of working and playing.

Chat between IM and cell phone

Instant Messenger allows you to send text messages to SMS-enabled cellular phones. Moreover, the recipient's text message replies appear on your desktop, like a standard instant messaging session.

At your Buddy List, click the IM button, at the bottom left of the window, to open the New Message window. (See Figure 5.) In the Screen name line, enter +1, followed by the cell phone number to which you intend to send the text message, and click OK. (See Figure 9.)

Figure 9. Sending a Text Message to a Cell Phone

This opens a new Conversation window, where you can chat with the holder of the cellular telephone. They can reply as they would in a conventional text conversation.

For this feature to work, it is necessary that the cell phones with which you want to communicate have SMS text-messaging features that are accessible and enabled by their cell phone service provider. Check with your telecoms provider to confirm the service. Additionally, messaging services are not uniformly established yet and certain countries may not accommodate IM-to-cell connections for various reasons.

If you are able to connect, though, this is an exciting feature.

Disable (or enable) sounds

If you have been using instant messaging, you know that there are sounds associated with a message received and with other messaging events.

There are occasions--such as when you are using IM as a back-channel on a multi-member conference call--when you should disable sounds on your desktop, so everyone on the call is spared hearing the Message Received beeps going off in the background. If everyone kept sounds enabled, imagine the flurry of beeps that would be audible on the call, when the opposing party, in a heavy negotiation, finally announces the details of something important, like pricing.

To disable sounds when receiving a message, go from your Buddy List to Tools > Preferences > Sounds > Sound Events and uncheck the box next to Message Received. This stops your machine from beeping upon each incoming instant message.

Other sound events you can control from this window include:

  • Buddy logs in

  • Buddy logs out

  • Message received

  • Message received begins conversation

  • Message sent

  • Person enters chat

  • Person leaves chat

  • You talk in chat

  • Others talk in chat

  • Someone says your name in chat

Here, you can make permanent changes or restore the default settings.

Managing "Away Messages"

You can send an Away Message if you leave your desk for a few minutes. This is a polite way to tell your Buddies that you are not available, especially if you leave during a chat session.

The system defaults to automatically sending an Away Message if you do not touch the keyboard for one minute. The system's default Away Message reads, "Slightly less boring default." You can change this default message and adjust the time period to your preference via Buddy List; go to Tools > Preferences and click on Away/Idle. This window also lets you deactivate the Auto-away feature, so it stops sending Away Messages automatically. If you do that, the only way to send an Away Message is manually via Tools > Away, where you can choose an appropriate message (or the default) from the drop-down box.

To edit, to add new, or to erase unwanted Away Messages, go from your Buddy List via Tools > Preferences to Away Messages, where the tasks are self-explanatory. You can also add or remove Away Messages more directly from Buddy List via Tools > Away > New Away Message or Tools > Away > Remove Away Message, where the actions should also be intuitive.

Privacy Control

Instant Messenger offers fine-grained control over whom you permit to contact you. This is a very important feature, because instant messaging can seriously disrupt your attention on the desktop. Without Privacy Control, instant messaging is useful only in personal or social contexts and can scarcely be used in business settings. It also allows users to maintain large Buddy Lists, while permitting only a few chosen individuals to make incoming contact.

To control privacy, go from your Buddy List to Tools > Privacy, where the window offers a variety of choices via a drop-down list. (Figure 10.) Among Privacy settings, the following choices are available:

  • Allow all users to contact me

  • Allow only the users on my buddy list

  • Allow only the users below

  • Block all users

  • Block the users below

Figure 10. Privacy Window, in Default Mode

In the Privacy window, you can establish different privacy settings for each of your different instant messaging accounts, using the "Set privacy for" drop-down in the Privacy window. Figure 11 illustrates a restrictive privacy policy setting, in which the user has permitted instant messaging access to only two colleagues.

Figure 11. Adjusting Privacy Settings

Transferring files

JDS Instant Messenger is in the beginning stages of offering the ability to transfer files over an instant messaging session. File transfer is supported to varying degrees by the different instant messaging services and protocols.

Generally, you can send and receive files that are less than 1 MB in size; however, protocol support must exist at both ends of a file transfer for success. Trial-and-error is a good way to see whether file transfer works for you with certain colleagues. Support may sometimes be present but undocumented.

Tom Adelstein lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Yvonne, and works as a Linux and open-source software consultant with Hiser+Adelstein, headquartered in New York City. He's the co-author of the book Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop and the upcoming book Essential Linux System Administration, to be published by O'Reilly and Associates. Tom has been writing articles and books on Linux since early 1999.

Sam Hiser is a GNU/Linux consultant and migration specialist based in New York City. He was volunteer Marketing Project Lead and consultant to Sun Microsystems for the OpenOffice.org development project through its 20-millionth download. Along with Adelstein, Hiser founded JDShelp.org, a community site providing support and resources to users of the Java Desktop System around the world.

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