iChat is pretty cool
I've always been a hardcore Trillian user on Windows, so I was a little skeptical about using anything else to get to my buddies on AIM. iChat, which comes with the OS, is pretty decent though. The chatting appears as little bubbles next to the icon of the person typing in the text. It supports hyperlinks and all the basics, including the ability to set people's name so I don't have to wonder who MYFO278BGF is.
Since I have a MacBook with the built in camera though I got something else out of the equation: video chats. A couple of buddies that have Macs have the ability too - so we got "together" through iChat and I was really impressed - this is cool!
Some of the cool things you can do is have iChat change your background out to look like you are in the mountains or any other image you have on your machine. It's not perfect but it does work fairly well. In addition you can put filters on your image that stretch it, pinch it or apply a sepia filter so you can chat from the 1800s. All in all it's a lot of fun.
Not that I haven't done video conferencing before - we had a nice video conference link at my last company - it's just that this is so convenient. At least it was for my two buddies, one on a DSL link and the other on a FIOS connection like mine.
When I tried hooking up with a buddy that's on Comcast cable, we couldn't establish a connection. He had been able to chat with others, just not me. I'm pretty sure this was simply an issue of a firewall dropping something, or some packet level synchronization not being set up properly. We both tried a number of different resources to find a solution but in the end just gave up.
The only other challenge I had with the people I could communicate with was a constantly increasing squealing noise in the background. If I muted my mic it would stop, then after I un-muted it was slowly start up again. I think it had something to do with all the damn machines I have here in my office. Under the System Preferences - Sound setting there is an option on input volume to "use ambient noise reduction" - that did nothing. However by simply lowering the volume on my mic input it eliminated the sound.
Note: Looks like Cerulean Studios (makers of Trillian) will soon support an OS X version! Should be interesting.