iChat 5 How-tos

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iChat 5: How-Tos: Use the Preferences

There is little change from iChat 4 to iChat 5 that comes with Snow Leopard that if you have Updated your Intel Mac computer to Snow Leopard then iChat will be easy for you.

If, on the other hand you have never used iChat before this page and the ones it links to are the places to Start.

First though the Quick Links iChat 5, Pictures and How-tos in the other iChat 5 Section of this site.


Menu For the Different How-to pages



The Preferences Panes

The Preferences are accessed from the iChat Menu and can be used to set many of the global settings for iChat

From the iChat menu use the link/option to view the Preferences that iChat has.

This is essentially one window controlled by a ToolBar of icons that then show different panes.

General Pane

General Prefs Screen

The first time you go to the Preferences you are likely to see the General one first. On subsequent occasions it will be the last Pane you used.

The Show Status in Menu Bar adds a little Speech Bubble icon to the right hand end of the Menu Bar near the Clock. This is turn will show a - (minus) sign in it if the Front Buddy List is Off Line It will shows as a greyed out item if iChat is not open but the drop down will still work.

Clicking and holding over this will display the Status Message you have (Available or Away or any custom one you are using for either) and a list of the On-line Buddies you have. You can start chats with them if you select them.

There are now two subsections to this. The second check box on this pane is about how iChat codes the AIM servers when you Log out. In theory if you set it so have no tick then iChat will not fully log out of the AIM Server and you will appear as Away to your Buddies.

This in turn will mean that IChat will start up if the computer is On but iChat has not been started when an Off-line IM comes. iChat will ask you via Text chat from AIMSysMessage if you want to accept Off-Line Messages. The AIM server stores them until you sign in/turn the computer On again if you say Yes but will tell the Buddy that you don't accept them if you say No.

I personally think it is better to appear as Off-Line so your Buddies know you are not just ignoring them by using the Setting to set "When I Quit IChat, Set My Status To Offline". Setting it to be Off-line will also help when you are logging on from two computers such as work and home using the same Screen Name.

The top option, "At User Login, Set My Status To Available", speaks for itself, but if deselected iChat will need remember the Status of each Buddy List at each Start of iChat. It can be useful to Quit with a Buddy list set to Invisible or Away to give yourself time when you start iChat rather than immediately getting an Invite from a keen Buddy.

By default iChat will display "blobs" next to a Buddy's name in Red, Green or Amber similar to the type of Close Window, Minimize and Adjust window red, amber and green " blobs" at the top left of most windows. The alternative you can set is Shapes. They are still coloured but Green is Square, Amber is a Circle and Red is a Triangle. They are "flat" and do not have the 3D highlights. It will help if you are colour-blind to use the Shapes.

iChat 4 and 5 can natively see Animated Buddy Pics if this is On.

The Confirm before sending files will cause a dialogue box similar to the Accept/Decline one but shown before the file is sent.

NEW The Set the Same Status for All Accounts (Buddy Lists) allows you to set different Status setting for each Buddy list if this is Not used. If you are familiar with earlier versions you have to remember to set each Buddy list one after the other if this is not ticked as this is a change in iChat 5.

New. You also get the option to Set My Status to Away After the Computer is Inactive (Idle). After 10 minutes of no Keyboard or mouse input the computer is considered by iChat to be Idle. For your Buddies this changes the Blob they see to Amber IF your Status is Available. Away and Idle can only be seen by Mousing over a Buddy in iChat so setting yourself to Away can help dissuade Buddies from trying to contact you.

This can also be used with Fast User Switching which has two options in iChat 5 (go Offline or Set Away Status).

When I return to my Computer, if my Status ia Away: Give you three options of what to do when you first use the Keyboard or mouse. Consideration should be given to this as iChat may not be the Front application when you do this. Personally I have the Ask What to Do option selected so that I get reminded.

I have never got the Save Received Files to item to save anywhere but the Downloads folder. However this does seem to be an iChat only folder when Window Menu is used to display it's contents

Accounts Pane

Accounts Pref paneClear gif

This pane has tab that display and set different settings for each Buddy list.

First Off, the Accounts are shown in a list on the left. In iChat 5 this list is drag-able to put them in any order you want.

The active Accounts (Screen Names) are listed with a tick. By default clicking on one will change the info on the right to the Account Info tab for that Account/Screen Name. Use this Account has a dual function. It will log that account out of the server if ticked - or if it is an Account not being used it will Log that one in as well.

In iChat 5 you can have more than one AIM valid name and more than one Jabber ID logged in at once (As well as the Bonjour service being active).

If you do not have other Macs at home then you may not want to use the Bonjour Messaging part. This can be turned Off in the Bonjour Account Info tab (Deselect the Use This Account tick box). Alternatively on your children's computer you may not want them to use AIM (turned off now in the iChat Menu only or by having no AIM valid name here) and only use the "in-House" Bonjour. (Note:- Bonjour is the new(er) name for Rendezvous in earlier OS versions and you can still chat to earlier version Bonjour to Rendezvous)

If you turn either "Off" ( or Logout (Un-tick an account) in the iChat menu > Accounts), the Buddy List will, in this case, collapse to just the header bar with your Name and show it is Offline. It can then be Hidden by using the red Button. On future launches of iChat the Buddy List will remain Hidden unless you bring it to the Front again. The option in this Account Preference will also close the Bonjour Buddy list and remove it from view.

Deselecting the Use this Account on all Jabber IDs or all AIM valid ones will remove the Buddy List from view rather than the iChat Menu > Accounts option.

The Window Menu will list those that are set to "Use this Account" even if they are logged out via the iChat Menu > Accounts action.

Security Tab

Security tabClear gif

You can set who or who is not allowed to see you as being On-line. This is in addition to Being Invisible in the Buddy list (AIM Logins).

There are Several options in the tab:-

  1. Allow All
  2. Allow Buddy List only
  3. Allow Specific People
  4. Block All
  5. Block Specific People

The Blocking and Allowing of Specific people options allows you access to a List via the Edit Buttons where you can use the + and - signs to add people to the list or remove them.

You block or allow them by listing their Screen Name. Remember that people you block do not know you have blocked them. You just appear as being Off Line to them which in turn means they can not send you an Invite. Just removing them from your Buddy list allows them to keep you in their Buddy list where they can see if you are On-line and still IM you. Removing them and using the Allow Buddy List only or Allow Specific options may be the option for you if your contact list is not very big and not likely to change very often.

As lots of people contact me for Testing I use a Block list to exclude only those I want to and therefore allow new contacts that are not in My Buddy list (yet).

What I have tired to say here (above) is you may need to think a little about the way you intend to use iChat as to which of these methods will suit you best.

If you happen to keep a Blocked person in your Buddy List they will appear as Being Off-Line to you as well with their Status Message reading Blocked. Some clients for the AIM service allow a sort of half-way house of being Invisible which you can see your Buddies On-line status but you appear Off-line to them (iChat 4 and 5 can do this).

Server Settings Tab

To access the Server Settings tab's contents you to be logged out of AIM from the iChat Menu item first (or deselect Use this Account in the Info tab). If you are still logged in the info will be greyed out - as in this picture.

Server settings Open  Button

In here you can change the Login Port. The default is 5190 for AIM server Logins and the protocol is TCP but only the port is listed. The AIM servers accept a login on any of the 65535 ports and some routing modems and routers that need to specify Protocols when Port Forwarding can benefit from a change as File Sending uses port 5190 on UDP and can not be changed (they don't like the port being used "twice").

If you are having this issue change the port to 443 as the Mac Firewall now Certifies Apps and their ports if it Is On. Use this port (Mail and Secure Web sites) and the modem or router will not Port Forward on those ports as they are open to all LAN connections.

A Proxy specifically for iChat can be set here although it does better if there is a System wide one set in System Preferences > Network.

Messages Pane

Messages Prefs

As this picture shows, you can choose your Font (Style), including size, Font Colour and Balloon Colour.

You can choose to Reformat your Buddies' Incoming Messages if you have difficulty in reading the choice most people use. However this can make it a little more difficult to identify who is "speaking" in a Group chat as most people choose their own colour and it is not often that you get duplicates.

In all options there is a range of standard colours but there is also an "Other" choice that brings up the currently selected Colour window (Crayons, Spectrum, Colour Wheel thingy) where you can choose a less used colour.

The mock chat window that is on show in later versions shows any currently set Chat Background. Clearing the Background in a Text Chat window Using the View Menu > Clear Background will clear any picture showing here. You could in iChat 3 and early version of IChat 4 drop a PIc into this mock chat window but this no longer works (See the View Menu > Set Background)

As in iChat 4 can have multiple Buddy Lists open the chances of running two of more Text chats increases. You can Collect Chats into Single Window and each chat will have a bar you can click on to bring it to the front. You also chose to have iChat look for your name and alert you (Watch for My Name in Incoming Chats).

iChat can be set to put any chat that was Open when iChat was Quit back up when you restart iChat. This can be useful for Group chats or if you promised to get back to someone. However for 1-1 chats you will need to Restart the Chat.

Personally I Save All Transcripts, which is set in the second checkbox in the lower Section The default folder is called iChats and is found in your own Documents folder ~/Documents/iChats (or /Users/(your account name)/Documents/iChats if you want the Long path). You can not change this folder despite it implying you can.

This now has a sub section which can display the Last Chat or a selection of options in the number of last IMs in a chat.

If a Text Chat window is left open on Quit the "Last Chat" will be displayed. If the selection is the last 5 messages the chat will show the last 5 IMs (There are other options up to 250 messages) However if you then return the setting to the Last Chat you only see the Last IM.

It has other uses. If you double click on a Buddy it will show you the Last Chat (or last few IMs of the last Chat) you had with them even if this was a Group chat. This is somewhat dependent on having a lot of Saved Transcripts to work at it's best.

Auto-Reply with my Away message has been moved here from the General Section in iChat 4. It does the same thing. If you have set an Away message ichat will Auto respond to any text chat Invite with the current Away message. Remember what maybe funny for a friend to read may not be funny for your Mum to do so.

Alerts Pane

This is where you can set iChat to do certain things in response to certain things the apps does.

The top drop down has several items such as You Logging On, Buddies Logging On, Invite appearing, Getting a IM message, Sending an IM and so on.

You can link these actions to individual sounds, Speaking some Text and Bouncing the icon in the DOCK. Alerts Drop down

iChat has it's own sound stored inside the application. The Play Sound drop down will also list System Sounds and if you have any in your own ~/Library/Sounds folder it will list those as well. There are divisional lines between them in the list so you know which sort it is. If you are interested in creating your own then the .AIFF format at 44100khz is best. The volume of these at play back in iChat is governed by the System Preferences > Sound > Sound Effects/Alert Settings (and of course the overall volume setting for your Mac). They can seem to play louder here than when in general use due to this.

There are other settings, Bounce icon in the Dock (does what it says)

AppleScript Options pic

and the AppleScript option. Setting the AppleScript option give you access to the drop down. There are some Apple own Presets here (those below the second line). You can add your Own to your Home Folder/Library/Scripts/iChat to be seen here in iChat.


There is a new one for iChat 5 that changes the Message you send with the Mix Message Case Option. This alternates your outgoing Message characters, on Send, to be upper and lower case when used with the top Drop down's Messages sent option. If you select Message Received option it will then override all incoming messages. I find it too distracting on incoming Messages if they are sent by someone else. You can override it in the Formatting Incoming messages part with a Font with no Lower or Upper case.

The Choose Script option lets you select any script on your computer and the Open Scripts Folder tends to lead to your Own.

As you can see the Speech volume is set here.

In this version you cannot change the Text that is Spoken. It reads from presets with iChat for each Action but will read them in the voice you have selected in System Preferences > Speech

Audio/Video Preferences

VIdeo Preferences

This is where you select which Microphone you have if you have more than one input choice. It will tend to show two choices on all Macs with a LIne-In input even if nothing is connected to it. The Audio In-put device has to match the choice in System Preferences > Sound > Input tab.

If you do not have a camera it will display a large grey space the same size with a message to make you check if any On switch on the camera is selected.

If you have two cameras then an extra drop down appears. The bit that reads "Automatically Open iChat when External Camera is On" will only be effected by External Cameras that have an On switch/setting like the external iSight or a Firewire DV camcorder or converter. USB Cameras with no switch will not cause iChat to start up. An Added bonus though, is that iChat will log back in again if you lose the connection to AIM if you have a suitable external camera.

System Preferences Sound

The bar, Grey (and Green when you talk) under your Video picture is a graphical representation of the sound your Mic is picking up. The Volume is controlled as an System wide Input control in System Preferences > Sound > Input tab where the Mic choice also has to match.

You an choose here to repeat any Alert (ring) sound for incoming Video or Audio Invites, separate from the Alerts pane.

Next: How To A/V Chats



© Ralph Johns June 2010



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