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Chax - Add new features to iChat Pick of the Week
Chax imageThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
  • Developer: Kent Sutherland / Product Page
  • Price: Donationware
I use iChat quite a bit. OK. I use it a lot. It's my primary interface for reaching the far-flung members of Macworld's editorial team, and it keeps me in touch with friends and family who would otherwise have to wait for me to write a letter or email (yea, right!) or pick up the phone. As such, I'm always looking for ways to make iChat better -- and yes, I've tried the various replacement options, but keep coming back to iChat for its great audio and video chat support.

One such enhancement is Chax, a donations-accepted plug-in for iChat. Installation is a simple double-click and relaunch of iChat, after which you'll find a new Chax section in iChat's preferences. Without covering everything Chax does, here are a few of the features I find especially useful:
  • Change the font face and size of a user's name or status message. Unfortunately, the row height doesn't change with a smaller name font, but decreasing the size of the status font will let you see longer status messages. You still can't, however, override iChat's 45 (I think) character limit on status messages; that's all the characters you'll see of anyone's message, regardless of font size.
  • Automatically reconnect after disconnection. This one's important to me, as my iChat connection drops when I connect or disconnect from the VPN at work.
  • Automatically accept text chats. No more annoying windows that require a response (which I can't select without the mouse) to initiate a simple text chat.
  • Hide the Smiley button on the text input line.
  • Show unread message counts (or the sender's names) on iChat's dock icon. This is particularly useful with the auto-accept feature enabled.
  • View chat logs within iChat. While you can't search them, as you can with Logorrhea, it's great being able to quickly open an archived chat directly within iChat. Unlike using File: Open, the log viewer groups all chats by person, so it's much easier to find a specific conversation.
Chax does a lot more, too -- Dan Frakes covered it in detail in a Mac Gems writeup a month or so ago. Read his review for the scoop on everything it offers, or visit the Chax web page for a full feature list. Just be aware that there's no real documentation, and not every new feature is found in the Chax preferences screen. For instance, hiding a given buddy's status line is in the View menu, and the log viewer is in the Window menu.

These minor quibbles aside, I love this addition to iChat!
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  • Currently 2.00 / 5
  You rated: 4 / 5 (9 votes cast)
 
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Chax - Add new features to iChat | 10 comments | Create New Account
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Warning
Authored by: jaaronp on Feb 09, '06 10:47:19AM
This looks like it adds some valuable features to iChat.
However, this is not really a plugin. A plugin uses a well defined interface provided by an application's developer in order to allow third parties to extend functionality. This is a hack. I do not mean to imply that it is intended maliciously, or that it isn't a quality piece of software.
Chax uses the Input Management Architecture [developer.apply.com] to add functionality to iChat. This is not the intended use of the Input Management Architecture, and has the (possibly) unwanted side effect of introducing Chax's code into all other applications run by the user who has installed it.
For a more detailed discussion of InputManagers see John Grubers recent article on Smart Crash Reporter [daringfireball.com].
Input Managers are potentially very dangerous so one should always be wary of installing them.
Again, I'd like to reiterate that I do not mean to imply that Chax does anything malicious. The Input Management Framework allows for clever developers to do all sorts of exciting things that would not otherwise be possible, but it also opens up significant attack vectors.

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Warning
Authored by: jump420 on Feb 09, '06 05:21:40PM

Very informative piece. Thanks for the heads up!



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Warning
Authored by: coolsoldier on Feb 09, '06 06:22:23PM
It is possible to write an InputManager in such a way that it only loads into specific applications. In fact, most Safari bundles are written for SIMBL (Smart Input Manager Bundle Loader), which loads Input Manager bundles only for specific applications. This method of coding eliminates most of the risks of input managers by limiting their effects to the intended application.

Chax doesn't use SIMBL, so it's possible that it does load itself into every application, but it's equally possible that Chax is written to exclude itself from applications other than iChat.

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Warning
Authored by: Darkshadow on Feb 10, '06 04:31:50AM

Well, yes and no. Doing things with SIMBL, you're right, that code isn't loaded into every app - but SIMBL itself is.

Chax does get loaded by every app that is launched, but as far as I can tell, it will only load the code that makes the changes in iChat. So while Chax's code is loaded into all apps, only iChat will have the code executed.



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Warning
Authored by: SnowLprd on Feb 09, '06 07:46:42PM

While coolsoldier has a point, the key question -- whether Chax code is loaded into every application or just iChat -- is still unanswered. Until this question is answered, I've decided to uninstall Chax for the time being.



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Warning
Authored by: GaelicWizard on Feb 10, '06 09:37:43AM

Simply put, it is loaded into each and every application. That's how the Input Manager bundles work. It may not *execute* more than a single function call (that realizes its not in iChat, and does nothing else), but it is unquestionabley loaded into the address space of every application.

JP

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Pell



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Warning
Authored by: robg on Feb 13, '06 07:08:49AM

This warning will apply to *any* useful and cool app that modifies another program via the Input Manager. Off the top of my head, this would include (for Safari) Saft, Pith Helmet, SafariStand, Sogudi, and Acid Search. It probably also covers Keynote Assistant for iPhoto.

In short, yes, there's some risk. But if the code is written correctly, it will only execute in its target app.

To me, the risk is worth the reward -- I've never had an issue with Input Manager hacks, and I run quite a few of them.

-rob.



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Chax - Add new features to iChat
Authored by: r.leroux on Feb 10, '06 07:54:13AM

Hi,

Do you know how to contact Chax's author? I tried the Web-based message thing, but I get an errror everytime.


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Regards,

Ronald



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Chax - Add new features to iChat
Authored by: ksuther on Feb 10, '06 08:27:40AM

The web form should work, I just tested it out. You can try using that again or private message.

Kent Sutherland



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Chax - Add new features to iChat
Authored by: thisisfunah on Feb 11, '06 06:28:01AM

is there STILL no iChat add-on that allows you to set your font for status messages so that AIM users DONT see the ugly Lucida Grande?



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