Mountain Lion: Messages replaces iChat, gets public beta
Macworld - iChat is dead--long live Messages. With Thursday's announcement of Mac OS X Mountain Lion comes the news that iChat is being upgraded and renamed to Messages, with support for the iMessage chat system introduced with iOS 5.
If you can't wait until Mountain Lion arrives this summer to finally use iMessage with your Mac, relax--you don't have to. On Thursday, Apple will also release a beta version of Messages for Lion users. (The final version will be available this summer when Mountain Lion ships.)
I've spent the past few days using Messages and Mountain Lion. Here's a first look, keeping in mind that Mountain Lion won't be released for months, so features are in flux and could change.
It uses iMessage
The feature that transmogrifies iChat into Messages is support for Apple's iMessage chat system. Apple says that in the few months since iOS 5 arrived, there have already been 100 million registered iMessage users and more than 26 billion iMessages have been sent.
When Apple introduced iMessage, people focused on how it's similar to the SMS text-messaging system on phones. And yes, it's cool that iPhone users can send text and multimedia files over the Internet without any of the per-message charges that wireless carriers levy for texts. But that misses the bigger picture: By using the Internet instead of the cellular system, devices that aren't phones can join the party. iOS 5 gave the iPad and the iPod touch iMessage capabilities too, and now it's the Mac's turn.
iMessage supports some nice extra features such as the ability to (optionally) send information about whether you've received and read a message, and when you're in the process of sending a reply. To send a message to someone using iMessage, you need to know their Apple ID (which is usually based on their email address and may also be their iCloud username). Using the iMessage system, you can send text, pictures, and other attachments. If you need to talk with more than one friend, there's even support for multi-person chats. It's all encrypted, and it works no matter if you're on an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or a Mac. And if you're logged into iMessage on multiple devices, your conversations will go with you--you can start a chat on a Mac and end up on an iPad, with your entire conversation available for reference.
iChat plus iMessage
Though the name is now Messages, the features of iChat are more or less intact. The app still supports AIM, Yahoo, and Jabber protocols. (Since Google's chat system uses Jabber, Messages therefore supports Google Talk, too.) There's still a buddy list and still support for audio and video chats via those services. iChat Theater is still there, too--it's just called Theater now, and is accessible once you start a video chat from the Buddy List.
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