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What is Instant Messenging (IM) and what do I need to do it?

Instant messaging is a great way to send a quick note to someone without having to wait the time required for an e-mail exchange. Unlike forums or chat rooms where everything typed can be viewed by anyone, Instant Messages are usually only between two people. In a sense, IM is like passing notes in class (and sometimes it's even used for that purpose via cell phones or in-class computers).

In order to IM with another person, you both need the same IM client software (although a few programs exist that allow different clients to talk to one another). Windows includes MSN Messenger, but many people choose AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Other clients include ICQ, Yahoo! Instant Messenger and Skype (which also allows broadband phone conversations). Programs like Trillian allow you to work with multiple IM clients. These third party programs aren't supported by the clients they work with, so it's not guaranteed they will always work. However, many people with friends using different clients use these all-in-one programs with good results.

In addition to typing messages, most clients allow file transfers, email access and the ability to have audio and/or video chats. You can use any of the above links to download the clients. Choose a screen name, let your friends know what it is and you'll be IM-ing in no time.

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