Many web design companies have a widely distributed development team and often a geographically diverse client-base, including international clients. Smiley Cat Web Design's main web developer (or should I say "programming guru") is based in England, and I have a few clients there as well.
For smaller companies, such as my own, the cost of communicating with these various parties by phone can soon add up as well as being limiting in that you cannot share files and URLs in your conversations. That's where web-based tools have really helped me out.
Here's a run-down of the ones I use.
Although Trillian gets touted a lot as the best all-in-one IM client, I prefer Easy Message because it's super lightweight and does exactly what you need without bogging you down with a slew of unnecessary features.
I recently started using Skype for chatting with folks in England as I'd heard some good things about it. Well, to say I was blown away by the sound quality is an understatement - for the first few minutes of our conversation, having grown used to the tinny sound quality of other tools, we just kept going on about how it sounded like the person you were speaking to was in the room next to you.
The sound quality really is excellent. The interface is also good, making Skype a snap to use, and it has regular IM functionality built in so that you can send URLs and so on back and forth as you talk. You can also have a PC-to-phone conversation, but I haven't tried that out yet.
I like the way they use the phone metaphor throughout the interface, so that, for example, when you want to end your voice chat, you just click the red "hang up" button. Simple and intuitive.
Getting Skype set up and running was very easy. I had no trouble with firewall conflicts (I run Zone Alarm), which sometimes can occur with voice communication tools. The only thing Skype is missing is video functionality (see below) - I hope that this could be coming in the future.
Sometimes, being able to see the person you are talking to can be useful. I typically only do this with my developer in England, as most people still don't own a web cam (why, when they're only $40 these days?). However, finding a tool that connected with my webcam, played fair with my firewall and actually worked has been quite a challenge.
I tried MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ, all to no avail. Myself and my colleague simply couldn't get them to connect us. Given that there are so many options in this field, I wasn't about to spend all day troubleshooting the problem, so we'd try a tool for a while and then move on to the next one.
Fortunately, there was Yahoo! Messenger (YM) to save the day. In the traditional fashion of programs that users love, once installed, it just worked. No setup hassles. No firewall or connection issues.
The picture quality is very good, although I suspect that this is more to do with my web cam than YM. The interface is clean and straightforward too, although it does fall into the trap of offering a bunch of "fun" but largely useless features that I'll never use (why exactly would I want to skin the interface so that it depicts a Christmas scene?).
I've been using Yahoo! Messenger for a while now, and although occasionally the picture can freeze for a short period, usage has generally been hassle free. The only negative is the sound quality, which is rather tinny, and is completely blown away by the full, rich sound of Skype.
There are loads of players in this field, some of whom I'm still planning to check out. If you're looking for other options in the video chat realm, check out this list of links. [Sidenote: got to love those Angelfire web pages! Mmmm, starry backgrounds and animated GIFs...]
Posted on: July 15, 2004 | 2 Comments