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-- by Warren Ernst
Sometimes the Internet can seem like a solitary place. When you want to chat or meet friends, online services appear to have the Internet beat. Yet Mirabilis' ICQ ( "I seek you") 1.111 is trying to change all that by making it easy to locate your friends on the Internet and providing several ways to communicate with them in real time.
ICQ runs a small program whenever you connect to the Internet (even via a dial-up connection). It identifies you and your Internet location, delivers this information to the central ICQ server and tells you which members of your personal Contact List are currently online. Icons appear next to the names of those online to indicate whether they are chatting with other ICQ users, have put up a Do Not Disturb sign or are trying to communicate with you. And, ICQ feels solid, even in its current beta form.
Once you know someone is online, you can set up a text chat, send an e-mail or quick message, transfer a file directly to the other person's local hard drive or share a URL. It's also easy to share a third-party network application, like a document-collaboration program, Internet telephony product or game, with, for instance, a dial-up user whose IP address constantly changes.
ICQ distinguishes itself from other programs by allowing you to track a specific set of people. Microsoft NetMeeting 2.0 (see WinLab Reviews, this issue), by contrast, makes you wade through a long directory. While ICQ doesn't have NetMeeting's built-in audio and video capabilities, they're not missed. Once you know a friend is online, you can speak to and see that person using NetMeeting (or any other product). ICQ's features and ease of use are strong enough to earn it a place on our WinList of recommended products.