Instant messaging (IM) software allows you to communicate
in real time
with other people through your computer. This is usually
done with text messages
, but as broadband continues to expand around
the world (and instant messaging software continues to improve) it can now
also include communicating with sound
and live video
Surprisingly, perhaps, the first instant messaging software was invented
in the 1960s. Most of the early instant messaging systems ran on
proprietary computer networks and were developed to enhance communication
between users. But instant messaging as we now know it took off in the
mid-1990s in parallel with the rise of the Internet.
The first widely-used instant messenger on the Net was ICQ (released
in 1996) and this was followed a year later by AOL Instant Messenger.
But when it became apparent that instant messaging was very popular with
the general public, these were soon followed by a raft of competing products
from Microsoft, Yahoo and many, many others.
The end result is that today there are many excellent IM products on the
market and virtually all of them are free. Why so? Because
the single biggest drawback of instant messaging software at the present
time is that thanks to corporate rivalries and some early patents, all IM
software is still essentially proprietary.
That is to say, in order to communicate with someone else using instant messaging
both parties need to be using the same IM software (not necessarily
the same version, but certainly the same brand).
And this in turn means that for all practical purposes, most people are confined
to picking what they hope is the most popular IM product
or installing and using several IM products. And the
situation is likely to stay this way until the companies that make IM software
either make their different IM protocols interoperable (the sensible
solution) or kill each other's products off (their wild and whacky dream).
Until then, here's where you can get the most popular Instant Messengers: