We've been using an interesting product in the ARN office for the last couple of months and I thought you might like to try it. It's called ICQ, and the best way to describe it is a universal connectivity kit for people who use the Internet.
Produced by an Israeli company, Mirabilis, ICQ (which stands for I seek you!) is largely being spread by happy users sending it to their friends, so you may have already been proselytised.
When something hits a responsive chord in the world of PCs, it tends to do so in a big way. ICQ is undergoing an almost exponential growth, though that will have to level off at some point. At the end of June it had a million users. At the end of July it had two million. Not bad for a product that's only available over the Net or by e-mail.
ICQ puts together a number of tools and features already existing in other places, but certainly not in one package as far as I know, and nowhere near as powerful either. It creates an electronic "pager" account which allows people to contact you via the Internet, either in real time or when you next connect to the net.
ICQ prefers to be loaded at startup of your system. That way, as soon as you connect to the Internet, ICQ sends a message to the ICQ server and registers the fact that you're online. More importantly, it also tells anyone who you've approved that you're online and therefore contactable. Once you have people on your ICQ list, you can see when they come online, and that's where the fun starts.
You can: send a PC-to-PC text message; text chat with one or many people simultaneously; send a file; send the URL of the WWW page you're looking at; send e-mail; cooperatively launch an interactive application such as Internet phone or videoconferencing.
Mirabilis says ICQ is a Universal Platform from which you can launch any peer-to-peer application. It can also be used in a multiple-user mode, so groups can conduct conferences or just "hang out" online.
How much does it cost? I wish we knew. This is still free, time-limited beta software and Mirabilis answered my question with a paranoid form letter about "not listening to unfounded rumours". All I wanted to know was whether I'd be slugged with a large fee when it goes commercial.
If you want to try it, take a look at: