6.6 Windows Messenger
Instant messaging is the new email: it's a trendy but useful tool that lets you chat with other people instantly. Windows XP boasts its own built-in instant messaging program called Windows Messenger. Here are hints on how to make the most of this cool program.
6.6.1 Are You Using Windows Messenger or MSN Messenger?
Windows Messenger and MSN Messenger are both instant messaging programs from Microsoft. They look alike and work similarly, but they're not the same program. The main difference: Windows Messenger is built into Windows XP (you can run it by choosing Start All Programs Windows Messenger) and MSN Messenger isn't (you have to download it from the Microsoft Network at http://www.msn.com).
How can you tell which messenger program you're using? There's an easy way to find out: Open the program and click Help. "About Windows Messenger" appears if you're using Windows Messenger, and "About MSN Messenger" appears if you're using MSN Messenger. There are, of course, other instant messaging programs you can use, such as AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger, but those aren't built into XP.
Note: Windows Messenger and MSN Messenger are not related to XP's Windows Messenger Service, which you can use to send and receive messages on a local area network. (For example, a network administrator might need to send a note to everyone on the network, warning that a printer is not working). One drawback of the Windows Messenger Service is that it's sometimes used to send spam. For advice on stopping this pesky intrusion, see Section 6.2.3.
6.6.2 Protecting Your Privacy in Windows Messenger
When using Windows Messenger, you sacrifice some privacy in exchange for instantaneous communications. For example, when Windows Messenger is up and running, other folks using Windows Messenger can usually see when you're online. Plus, people can easily view personal information about you, such as your name and phone number, that you provide when you first start using Windows Messenger. As a counter measure, you can customize Messenger to protect your privacy.
188.8.131.52 Blocking others from knowing you're online
When you log on to Windows Messenger, anyone who's put you on her Windows Messenger contact list receives a notification that you're online. Fortunately, there's a way to prevent messenger buddies from knowing you've logged on. Open Windows Messenger and choose Tools Options Privacy to bring up the screen shown in Figure 6-21.
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Figure 6-21. If you don't want certain people to know when you're online, add them to your Block List. Keep in mind, though, that anyone you block won't be able to send you instant messages. (You can still send them messages, however.)
The Allow list on the left lists all of your contacts, while the Block list on the right lists those you want to hide your presence from. To add someone to the Block list, highlight that person's address on the left and click Block. (Someone must be listed as a contact before you can block him, but that person can't tell that you've blocked him out.) You can also block everyone except your contacts by choosing "All other users" in the Allow list, and then clicking Block.
184.108.40.206 Protecting your password
Messenger can automatically sign you into .NET Passport Web sites, such as Hotmail. This may be convenient , but it also means that anyone using your computer can check your email or gather other personal information from other Passport-enabled sites.
Note: .NET Passport is a Microsoft technology developed to let you sign on to a multitude of Web sites or services without entering your user name and password for each one separately. Once you sign up for a .NET Passport (which happens when you first use Windows Messenger, or sign up for a Web site such as HotMail), each time you log into one Passport service, you're automatically logged into other Passport services. (By the way, people pronounce this technology "dot Net.")
To ensure that no one uses your account to automatically log into Passport-enabled Web sites, open Windows Messenger and choose Tools Options Privacy. Then turn on the option that says, "Always ask me for my password when checking Hotmail or opening other .NET Passport-enabled Web pages."
220.127.116.11 Hiding your phone number and real name
To check whether you're unintentionally sharing your phone number and name by using Windows Messenger, open the program and choose Tools Options Phone. If your phone number is listed there, you may want to delete it.
To make sure no one discovers your real name, choose Tools Options Personal, and see if your name is listed in the "My .NET Service Display Name" box. If it is ‚ and you'd rather be incognito ‚ choose an alias of some kind.
6.6.3 Split Your Personality with Windows Messenger
Some people want multiple online identities. For example, if you need to keep your work life separate from your online dating personality, different accounts help you show the world different sides of yourself. Windows Messenger easily lets you set a few yous.
First you need to set up separate Passport accounts. If you use Windows Messenger, you already have one Passport. To create another one, at a command prompt or the Run box, type control userpasswords2 and press Enter. The User Account dialog box appears. Choose Advanced .NET Passport Wizard, and follow the directions to create a Passport. Create as many as you want; each Passport can have a different identity (for instance, a different address and name).
To switch to a different Passport identity, log out of Messenger by choosing File Sign Out. Then log in again by selecting "To sign in with a different account, click here." The sign-in screen shown in Figure 6-22 appears. Choose a different Passport account to sign in with that identity.
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Figure 6-22. Choose which identity you want by selecting an email address from the drop-down list. If you'd like to sign in to Passport automatically when you use that account, select "Sign me in automatically."
6.6.4 Yes, You Can Skin Messenger
For fans of "skinning" ‚ techie jargon for changing a program's look and feel ‚ Messenger offers you one way to alter its appearance: Change the background graphic it uses.
To choose a different graphic, first go to My Computer C: Program Files Messenger and rename the current graphic file (lvback.gif) with a new name (like oldlvback.gif). Then create or find the image you want to use as Messenger's background graphic. (If you're creating it, make sure it's in .gif format and make it 160 pixels wide by 140 pixels high.) Name it lvback.gif and copy it to My Computer C: Program Files Messenger.
Now the next time you open Messenger, your new background graphic will be there to greet you. To return to the original graphic, delete the file you created, and rename the old file (oldlvback.gif or whatever you called it) lvback.gif.
6.6.5 Turning Off Messenger's Tabs
Messenger launches with several tabs on the left-hand side, which take up a lot of space. To turn off the tabs, choose Tools Options Privacy and select "This is a shared computer, so don't display my tabs." Then click OK.
6.6.6 Save a Messaging Session to a Text File
Windows Messenger doesn't automatically keep copies of your instant messaging conversations, which is why some people prefer an IM chat to the recorded volleying of an email exchange. But if you suddenly decide you're in the midst of an instant messaging session that you can't bear to see disappear, there is a way to save it to a text file.
At any point while you're messaging with someone, choose File Save to save the entire conversation as a text file ‚ even the part before you decided to save. On the downside, you can't save conversations that have already ended.
Note: You can't tell whether your chat partner has saved a conversation, so if you want the record to disappear, use ESP instead of IM.
6.6.7 Windows Messenger Add-Ons
Luckily, you don't have to use Windows Messenger strictly the way Microsoft shipped it. To enhance its capabilities, you can easily download a variety of cool add-ons. One option, Global Incognito Chat, lets you encrypt your messages so no one can snoop in on them. This user-friendly add-on is available for free at http://www.globalincognito.com.
Another program, BlastIM, adds a number of time-saving features, including broadcasting messages to multiple contacts, and forwarding conversations to other Windows Messenger users. It's shareware and free to try out, but if you decide to keep it, you're expected to pay $20. Get it from PowerHouse Programming at http://www.powerhouseprogramming.com/blastim.html.