The Windows Mobile Instant Messaging Bible

UPDATE (11/15/2007): REVIEW: Another great, multiplatform instant messenger client: Palringo

UPDATE (07/07/2007): A MAJOR update posted to HERE – a MUST!

UPDATE (04/10/2007): Just Another Mobile Monday frontpage

UPDATE (03/27/2007): Causerie review frontpage at PPCT

UPDATE (03/23/2007):

Causerie has just released their, on other mobile platforms, already-known instant messaging solution. As usual, the majority of the related information can be found in the updated comparison chart; in here, I only provide you with a pros/cons list.

The good

  1. ability to log into any IM service using two accounts – currently, no other IM app is capable of this!
  2. support for (ro)bots. Right now, Causerie retrieves Stock Quotes, Weather Predictions, Directions, News related to Business, Technology, Games, California Traffic, eBay etc.
  3. Enterprise version supports Lotus IM (Sametime), Microsoft LCS, SIP, Reuters LCS and Jabber (SSL) – this is a BIG plus and really unique!
  4. IMAP support. This means you don’t need to run an IMAP-capable mailer client in the background to get notified of your incoming mails. This, of course, will only work if you do have an IMAP-capable mailbox. This is also pretty unique. (See the IMAP Bible for more information on this question.)
  5. Developer promises at least one-way SMS messaging in forthcoming, 1.1 version, slated for May. Now, their Palm version already supports even two-way messaging

The bad

  1. restriction of four concurrent accounts logged in at a time
  2. complete lack of Landscape orientation support – very bad news for slide-out or clamshell keyboard users (HTC Wizard, TyTN/Hermes, Universal etc.)
  3. prone to crashes
  4. not effective, Web browser-based rendering: slow, bandwidth-hungry and causes the on-screen SIP to be hidden with some people
  5. doesn’t automatically re-login when the connection (temporarily) terminates: a problem particularly with unattended, suspended mode
  6. no file transfer, no logging, all chat windows are immediately closed when the connection terminates, no support for conferencing

Verdict

Promising. Needs a little more work and bugfixes on the developer’s part, though.

UPDATE (03/14/2007): new version of Mundu out; see this article for more info. Note that I've "only" updated the comparison chart with information on the current Mundu version, NOT the Bible below. I'll only do the latter when a "real" Pocket PC version of the latter is released.

UPDATE (03/09/2007):

  1. PPCT frontpage
  2. You can download the latest version of Windows Live Messenger here. It's an AximSite thread so it can't be illegal (at least I hope so). This thread is, by the way, is pretty much recommended.
  3. There is another lightweight and very simple, but small ICQ client, Anastasia, available here (thanks to CharlyV of SKKV Software for the tip!). (Incidentally, I DO ask every program developer to register their programs into the Pocket PC Mag Software Encyclopedia! I'm not guaranteed to find all Windows Mobile programs if you only publish related info / accouncements in German / Russian / you-name-it-what-language forums (not that I couldn't speak German or Russian - I speak quite a few languages, including these two)).
  4. I've been asked about XMPP in several reader e-mails so I need to stress the following: XMPP is an IETF standard for messaging and is a fully open standard. This is the same standard that Apple uses for iChat and Google uses for GoogleTalk. Currently, few IM clients support direct XMPP connections; one of them is imov Messenger, which is XMPP based. This means you cannot use for example OctroTalk with your own IM server because it relies on a centralized server that presumably a single company controls. In addition, there are some other important benefits that imov Messenger (and other XMPP clients) offers the end user:
  • As has been mentioned, it is built on XMPP which is an Open IETF standard
  • For complete control, you can run your own XMPP server on your own network
  • If the protocol changes for AIM, ICQ, Yahoo, etc the client does not need to be updated and redeployed - just the server
  • XMPP offers encryption of traffic between the client and the server

The original article is as follows:

Instant messaging is one of the key features of today’s communication. It’s much faster than e-mailing, much easier than picking up (and, probably, paying for) the phone and is pretty reliable.

E-mails, even if they are delivered at once (which isn’t guaranteed) are not guaranteed to notify the user at once (see for example this excellent article (and some feedback here) from the Modern Nomads folks on this question). Not so with instant messages – they, unless the connection is lost and the sender doesn’t notice this or, if it’s using a central dispatching server and it’s heavily overloaded (more on these problems later), promise really instant message delivery and notification.

You may have been a long-time user of desktop-based instant messaging solutions like MSN / Live Messenger, AIM, Yahoo, Google Talk, IRC or ICQ. You may also have a Jabber client – either just for fun (on at, say, the central Jabber server) or at your enterprise, where Jabber is a decent alternative (also see this article and “Google Talk might be(come) the right tool for your corporateâ€) to other enterprise-grade instant messaging & presence solutions like IBM Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing, Microsoft Office Live Communications Server and Novell GroupWise Messenger – and, to my knowledge, the one and only platform directly supported by Windows Mobile.

Fortunately, most of these services are also accessible on Windows Mobile. Note that I won't introduce these services here at all. If you're a newcomer to instant messaging (IM for short) and would like to choose one of them, which one you go for is mostly a matter of personal taste and the number of your friends using the given service.

The latter is because there is little interoperability between the different services. That is, if you install, say, the ICQ client, you won't be able to talk to your buddies using MSN (Microsoft) clients and so on. On the desktop, this can be easily combated by going straight for multi-service clients like Trillian or, if you need an open-source implementation for your Un*x desktop or mobile (and even desktop Windows!), Gaim (see here the Qtopia version of Gaim, should you want to use it on your Linux-based, even originally Windows Mobile-based mobile). Unfortunately, there’s no direct port of these two well-known, hugely popular clients to Windows Mobile. As far as Trillian is concerned, however, Web clients are already supported), which, however, are far more awkward to be used from a mobile.

Personally, as far as selecting the best service for your needs, I mostly recommend MSN because its support is definitely the best on Windows Mobile, should you want to go for a messaging platform without being constrained by the services your existing buddies are already using. Not only all third-party clients do support it (except for one-protocol ones like PocketICQ, gsICQ or the three-service mChat), but also Microsoft's own IM solution, MSN Messenger and Live Messenger, are very solid and, with MSN Messenger, in general, built-in products. Being built-in means you don't need to install (and, in cases, pay for) third-party software on your Windows Mobile (WM for short) device but use the one already available in there. What I also recommend if you’re looking for a messaging platform but, for some reason, don’t want to go for the MSN service is either Jabber or ICQ. Both have excellent Pocket PC clients – for example, the former is supported by almost all major titles and latter is supported by two of the best and, what is more, free titles, mChat and gsICQ.

You may also want to consider for example whether you need HTTP tunneling when going for a particular service. This isn’t supported by some services (for example IRC); the more recent ones like Jabber, ICQ, Yahoo and MSN, however, already support it (see for example the “Jabber and HTTP†section here and this for more info on the two latter services). Also see the comparison chart in the Comparison of instant messaging protocols for additional information.

In general, all IM solutions offer almost the same capabilities: in addition to chatting, file transfer, some even support video / audio chatting, multi-user chat (groupchat) and styled text. In addition, as far as Windows Mobile-compliance is concerned, Jabber servers are perfectly suited for enterprise-grade deploying. Please see this page for more info & links to individual Jabber server products, should you want to choose and, then, set up one for your enterprise, keeping Windows Mobile-compliance in mind.

Now that we have a generic picture of what IM services there are, we can move on to the clients that are actually able to connect to these services.

Fortunately, there are several Windows Mobile instant messaging clients. No matter what protocol (service) your mates use, you will be able to find at least one (and, in most cases, several) applications to do the task. With most of these applications, all you need to do is pretty straightforward: you supply them the login / password credentials to your (preferred) service and simply log in. With some of them (most importantly, imov Messenger), you will also need to use another central server account (which you can register from inside the app), which makes the life of a complete newbie a bit harder at first but soon becomes pretty easy. That’s because you can create /register the account right from your IM app on your Windows Mobile device.

1.1 The two types of connectivity: SMS and constant Internet connection

There are two main ways a Windows Mobile client can receive instant messages (not counting in Push Mail, which I’ll elaborate on in a later article): either through a constant Internet (for example, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS or HSDPA) connection or via SMS messages. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.

1.1.1 Constant Internet connection

This communication form is far more common with Windows Mobile clients. It requires a constant (!) Internet connection between the mobile device and the service. It has the following advantages:

  1. if you don’t have an unlimited text plan, SMS-based notification can become REALLY expensive as it uses one outgoing SMS for each message you send out. What is more, the 160-character size of SMS messages applies here too – if you enter too “long†messages (more than 150-160 chars), you end up having to pay for two SMS’es and so on. Also, you’ll probably be charged for incoming messages (they arrive as SMS messages) too. Finally, compared to the ubiquity of unlimited text plans, (close to) unlimited data plans are far more common and subscribed to by most Windows Mobile users.
  2. all current, generic IM clients support data connections, unlike SMS messages - SMS support is very scarce with today's clients

It has, on the other hand, some severe disadvantages:

  1. if your data plan isn’t unlimited or, at least, 10-60 Mbytes (depending on the client you use – there are vast differences in bandwidth usage, as we’ll also see) a month while you do prefer having IM on the entire day long, you will soon use up your Internet plan.
  2. battery consumption because of the constant data consumption, particularly with 3G or 3.5G-capable (that is, not just 2.5G GPRS/EDGE) mobiles like the HTC Universal, the TyTN / Hermes, Trinity and the like. 3(.5)G UMTS / HSDPA connections REALLY chew through your batteries QUICKLY. (Note that constant data connection also requires actively waiting for incoming messages in a non-suspended case. This, with current Windows Mobile phones, isn’t a problem, unlike with old(er) Windows Mobile devices not sporting built-in phones. The latter consume a LOT of power in non-suspended case and are hardly usable in day-to-day IM situations if you can’t regularly recharge them.)

    For example, in this XDA-Dev thread, XDA-Dev forum members complain about the mobile’s completely chewing through the battery in three hours (!) on the TyTN / Hermes while using Agile Messenger (one of the IM applications available for WM). With a GPRS/EDGE connection, the battery lasted at least eight times more (24 hours).

    Fortunately, you can easily fight this problem. As has already been pointed out, it’s typically with high(er)-speed, new-generation connections (UMTS or HSDPA) that the battery consumption becomes really an issue with most current WM-based phones, you may want to force your otherwise UMTS / HSDPA-capable phone to stay at GPRS or EDGE and, consequently, consume way less power. There is even a tool, BandSwitch, to do the trick for you, developed by the excellent XDA-Developers gurus. Please see this thread for more info. (Additional info for example here and here.)

  3. finally, current data connection-based clients can be pretty unreliable. Either they disconnect and, for some reason, fail at reconnecting to the service or are seemingly connected but still don’t receive (send) anything. The latter is the worst possible situation because your party won’t even notice you aren’t receiving her or his messages.

All in all, if being able to be reached all the time and with 100% confidence is of EXTREME importance or you have a Windows Mobile phone with high battery consumption or you have an unlimited text plan, you may want to have a look at SMS-based solutions. Otherwise, stick with data-based ones.

1.1.2 SMS

Now that we've seen the advantages and disadvantages of SMS-based solutions, let's move on to the question of the SMS-capable clients themselves.

There are few clients to support SMS-based messaging. The most important of them is the now-discontinued (and, therefore, not any more recommended), well-known VeriChat.

There are, however, some alternatives you may want to check out:

SMS Threader - v1.17 (also see this)

Palm’s well-known SMS threader application is also worth mentioning. Unfortunately, it's only available for the Windows Mobile-based Treos.

The built-in AIM client in the HP iPAQ h6315, which also used SMS messages (see this and this), while the old one didn’t use SMS’es.

The same stands for the AIM messenger coming with the T-Mobile MDA

Finally, PocketICQ is also SMS-compliant.

1.2 Available Windows Mobile IM clients

As with most of my roundups, this one also contains most of the relevant information in the self-standing comparison chart (CLICK THE LINK!). This is why I don’t list the (missing) features, pros and cons of each and every application in here. If you do spend some time on browsing the chart (make sure you maximize the browser window when you do it so that you end up having to scroll only rarely), you get a very compact, albeit much more useful way of directly comparing all the alternate clients.

Note that there are a lot of features current IM applications offer you may have never even dreamt of (for example, file transfer, voice chat or chatrooms / groupchat). This is why it’s essential you thoroughly scrutinize the chart and the explanation. In order to keep the article as terse and non-self-repeating as possible, it’s only there that I elaborate on these features, not anywhere else. (Now, just imagine I had listed on all the (missing) features of all the reviewed & compared applications in the current article, in free textual form! Not only would it take you ages to even read them all, but also comparing these features to those of the alternates would be WAY harder.)

1.2.1 Webmessenger Mobile Instant Messenger for Pocket PC 2003 2.6 build 070216 (a WM5-only version, “Mobile Instant Messenger for Windows Mobile 5.0â€, is also available here)

This is a comparatively new product with pretty average features. The developers also offer two other, mostly enterprise-targeted (for example, Jabber support) IM solutions.

It's the only IM app for WM to support Skype (in addition to the "official" Skype client, of course). However, this requires an additional plug-in: you must also register for at least the free version of WebMessenger Mobile for Skype. Make sure you download the desktop component as well.

1.2.2 IM+ 4.3 by Shape Services

This is one of the most widely used and known, well-established, leading IM solutions. Should be one of the products you take a very serious look at.

Review here; a generic thread is here; another one thread on some recent (4.28, 4.29) bugs.

1.2.3 OctroTalk 0.10

This is a brand new IM product for WM. It's still being developed and already having, even compared to the other, much older and well-established IM clients, pretty decent features (for example, one of the few products to commit an update check at startup). It's still in beta stage and is, therefore, free at least until the end of March. Beta also means sometimes non-operating central dispatcher servers though - use with care and don't deploy into situations that require guaranteed availability yet! However, if you don't need to be online all the time and some server downtimes aren't a problem, this client is worth checking out even at this beta stage, particularly because the developer is actively trying to implement users' requests, which, unfortunately, is pretty uncommon with other IM clients (albeit the imov and the PocketIRC folks are pretty responsive to user remarks too). That is, you may also help in creating the BEST, most powerful WM IM client.

Note that the developers have let me know they will implement both file transfer and some other features "this week" (last week of February 2007). I'll accordingly update this roundup and the chart as soon as they are indeed implemented.

A great discussion thread can be found here.

Note that, even as of version 0.10, it's still has a bug of false contact add announcements as can also be seen in here. If you have hundreds of contacts, this will mean you will need to answer the question of the dialog hundreds of times every time you install and configure a new version of OctroTalk. This may be - understandably! - a showstopper for many (see for example this post). Hope later beta (or, at least, the final) versions will get rid of this very annoying bug.

1.2.4 Live Messenger

Microsoft's latest MSN client, Live Messenger, is still at (a public closed) beta, which means if you were a betatester, you still have access to it at Microsoft Connect, unlike with the desktop Live Messenger betas, which have long been in use and are accessible to anyone. Otherwise, you'll need to wait for the official launch: Live Messenger for WM is slated to be released in some months and will be compatible with WM5 and WM6 (sorry, not with previous operating systems).

It's REALLY capable and highly recommended; for example, it supports two-way file sending/receiving and groupchat. No wonder I recommend the MSN service for all WM users as the service supported the best.

There is a decent review here. Note that there is a similar article here, but it discusses the web-based Windows Live Mobile, not Live Messenger. Still, it may be worth checking out because it contains a lot of nice comparisons to the alternative services.

For this roundup, I've reviewed the latest public beta version as of this writing.

1.2.5 MSN Messenger (as of WM5 AKU2.3)

The predecessor of the above-introduced Live Messenger with, compared to its successor, (in times, really) reduced feature set. However, it's still highly recommended if you (only) need MSN connectivity and don't need an application that also supports other services. It’s, in addition to Live Messenger, the other MSN-capable client to support groupchat.

1.2.6 Agile Messenger AMST-WMPPC-65

This once-free, well-known and capable application / service has been made commercial in the meantime. Now, you have two choices of subscribing to it: either pay some $15 for three months or $45 for a life-time license.

This thread on Agile's sending passwords as pure, unencrypted text may also be of interest. Also, in here, some XDA-Dev users complain about the Agile folks’ not responding to their mails.

1.2.7 imov Messenger Basic / Enterprise 2.12e

The predecessor of this title was JabberCE, which, later, has been renamed to imov Messenger (this is why the old JabberCE page isn’t accessible any more). This title has two version: a somewhat restricted (for example, it doesn't support logging) Basic version and an Enterprise one. The latter is still decidedly cheaper than both IM+ and Agile Messenger.

Note that the Basic version isn't directly available on the developer's homepage but, for example, here.

1.2.8 Verichat by (ex-)Intellisync v1.42b

This well-known title, now that Intellisync has been bought by Nokia, is no longer supported / sold. (This is why I also provide an alternate URL, should the original homepage be removed.)

This IM application is one of the very few titles that support SMS-based messaging. Otherwise, it doesn't have much to write home about - the majority of the alternatives is considerably better.

Also see this thread.

1.2.9 PocketICQ 1.0 Beta

This is a very (some 6 years) old ICQ client; given that it’s still officially in beta stage, I seriously doubt it’ll ever become non-beta. Nevertheless, it may prove a good alternative to other, mostly commercial titles if you only need ICQ support and don't need always-on accessibility on a Windows Mobile phone (it's the only hugely important thing this title severely lacks at). First, however, give a try to gsICQ (or mChat) instead to see whether they fit your needs better.

1.2.10 IRC clients

Internet Relay Chat (IRC), in addition to even older solutions like Talk, has been a highly popular IM / groupchat platform for over 15 years.

Fortunately, there are several really capable IRC clients for the WM platform. Three of them are the most important: the commercial PocketIRC / wmIRC and the free zsIRC. Of these three applications, I've included information on the two commercial titles in the feature chart because zsIRC, while still way better than any other free solution, is, in many respects, considerably worse than any of these two titles. Furthermore, if you want to know more about zsIRC and how it compares to these two clients, make sure you check out my related articles.

I’ve published several articles on Windows Mobile IRC clients. Please give them a read (particularly to this one) for more information.

1.2.11 gsICQ / mChat

Last but not least, these two, free clients of Russian origin are excellent and certainly show you can write useful, fully-fledged, dependable business applications using the .NET Compact Framework. (Unfortunately, apps like these are very rare; most .NET CF-based “full†apps have a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. See for example the applications / games written by IBE Group; for example, IBE Backup, IBE Mail and Star Invader).

mChat supports ICQ, Jabber and Mail.ru’s own messaging server (I don’t think the latter will be really appealing to any non-Russian speaker). Its little brother, the ICQ-only gsICQ is, in some ways, even stronger and more featureful than mChat as far as ICQ support is concerned; therefore, you’ll want to scrutinize my comparative remarks in the combined gsICQ / mChat column in the Comparison Chart. Note that I've listed the two applications in the same columns because most of their features / behavior are the same.

1.3 Not reviewed (discontinued / non-working / plain old / will be tested later) clients

1.3.1 AIM for WinCE

This is a very old, free Pocket PC AIM client. It doesn’t offer much functionality; this is why I haven’t considered it a serious contender to the rest of the reviewed applications. Also see this and this for more info.

1.3.2 Yahoo! beta client

Yahoo! also had a beta client but they have discontinued it (also see this) and completely abandoned the platform.

1.3.3 Odigo Messenger Force by Ruksun Software Technologies (now: Amiga Development India)

This commercial (it cost $25; a trial version is/was also available) application has long been discontinued and isn’t even directly mentioned on the developer’s mobile IM-related homepage. Also see this and this; note that these threads state it wasn’t even compatible with WM2003 (and, consequently, later operating systems), only with previous ones (PPC2k and PPC2k2).

1.3.4 Mig33 3.0

This MSN / Yahoo / AOL (received in 3.0) / VoIP client is midlet (MIDP)-based; that is, not a native WM application.

It didn’t work for me. No matter how I hard I’ve tried (with both the lite and the 3.0 beta version) on my HTC Universal to log into my existing accounts on all the three supported networks, it has always complained about my account’s not existing

Some people, however, stated it works with them (1 2 3 4).

1.3.5 MS Portrait

I haven’t included MS Portrait in the main test either. The reason for this is very simple: there are just too few users using MS Portrait, also taking into the desktop users into account. Furthermore, while the front camera problems are still not solved in the last, 3.0 beta version, few people will use this application for TCP/IP-based video phoning.

Please read this review for more information.

2. Comparison / feature chart

It's available here (CLICK THE LINK!!).

2.1 Explanation for the chart

I'd like to stress again and again that you really should read this section very thoroughly

  1. to see what advanced functionalities these applications offer (there are MANY you may not even have dreamt of!)
  2. to be able to decide between the clients. Unfortunately, there is no "this is clearly the best" title, albeit there’re very strong and highly recommended ones like mChat. This also means you need to compare the (missing) functionalities of each and every title so that you can choose the one that fits most of your requirements.

Note that I don't list the most elementary rows (for example, price, trial restrictions, Landscape orientation or Windows Mobile operating system compliance) here - only the ones that do require some explanation to make sense.

Connection type?: in here, there may be three choices: direct (which means a particular client connects to a service directly, without a(n invisible) gateway), indirect (meaning a(not necessarily visible) gateway between you and the service you're accessing) and SMS. Note that I couldn’t safely decide between the central server-based and the direct modes; for example, with Agile.

We've already seen what SMS-based messaging can be used for and what its (dis)advantages are. Direct and indirect data connections, however, require some additional explanation: in general, you may want to prefer direct connectivity because indirect connections might be somewhat less reliable. This isn't an issue with, for example, the indirect connection-based imov Messenger; however, with the current (beta) version of OctroTalk, it may be. In many cases, I was completely unable to get it connected just because the central OctroTalk dispatch server was out of service.

VGA?: this row should definitely be one to check out if you have a high-resolution VGA device (as opposed to low-res QVGA ones); in here, I've elaborated on the VGA friendliness of the apps. Unfortunately, as can clearly be seen, there are several IM apps that aren't really VGA-friendly because, for example, they (still) use pixel doubling.

Non-stable connections: Status (current discussions) kept when disconnecting?: one of the most annoying problem with some IM applications is the fact they just close the chat windows when your connection becomes unavailable, which can happen pretty easily for example if you are roaming with your device and the cellular signal strength decreases. The most important example of the behavior is IM+, which immediately shuts down all the open chat windows. Fortunately, not any of the other applications do the same.

Note that older versions of Microsoft's own MSN Messengers also did the same (even in WM2003SE). Fortunately, the most recent versions shipped with WM5 no longer do this. Kudos to Microsoft for fixing this very annoying problem!

Auto reconnect when the / a connection terminates?: this is also very important for anyone relying on the ability to receive instant messages any time, anywhere. (Once again, SMS- or Push Mail-based IM solutions are much better and more reliable! Data connection but not Push Mail-based solutions should only be used as a last resort in a mission-critical environment!)

MSN disconnect test?: I've also run some disconnect tests (with the MSN service only, as far as multi-service IM apps are concerned; with IRC clients, I've, of course, run the clients over IRC to see whether their sensing the disconnected state has been made quicker lately, as is, for example, also promised with the latest version of PocketIRC) to see whether a forced connection disconnect (emulating the above-mentioned cellular phone roaming situation) results in both the particular application and the desktop party it's connected to sensing the connection is broken. Note that positive “no problem at all†results don’t necessarily mean you won’t ever have disconnection / invisibility problems – a lot of users have been reporting cases like this with, say, IM+ (see for example this thread).

Easy / quick input: PDM’s: with some applications, you can use in-app defined text shortcuts to greatly reduce typing time by just sending a "canned", pre-written response to your buddies. Some apps allow for editing these messages and one, imov Messenger, even allows for constructing them from word / expression atoms to form real sentences. The latter is really an excellent idea!

Smiley input / output: as far as smileys (emoticons) are concerned, does

  1. the particular client support inputting them using pre-made small icons?
  2. use graphical icon when displaying received (or sent) smileys?

As can clearly be seen, most apps do support at least smiley rendering (and some even input). However, the number of smileys they know is pretty limited, Live Messenger being the best in this respect.

Command / input history quickly accessible with up/down OR a menu?: when you chat with someone, you may need to quickly retype something you've just said. In this case, a very quick way of scrolling back your recently-said messages can be very nice. Support for this, using the Up and Down cursor keys has been present in most IRC clients ever since the beginnings of IRC - just like with the command repeat / review functionality of the Unix shells or MS/PC-DOS with DosKey (with later DOS version) or dosedit.com (with earlier ones).

Unfortunately, this feature is only present in PocketIRC. None of the non-IRC applications support this functionality, which is a big minus with them all.

Readability, amount of information displayed at a given time: Font size settable (very important in native VGA mode)?: if you are a VGA user and have ever tried to run MSN Messenger in native VGA mode, you may already know it’s impossible to make its, in native VGA, unreadably tiny fonts larger. Fortunately, its successor, Live Messenger, has fixed this problem. Most other IM clients don’t suffer from this problem either – except for some of them (for example, imov Messenger Basic), all allow for setting the font size.

History, copy / paste, logging group: in this group, I've elaborated on how a given client supports text selection and copy to the clipboard (copy / paste), whether it supports logging discussions to a file in the local file system and whether the links (for example, Web links) are clickable.

With IM clients where Web links aren’t clickable, you can still copy them to the clipboard – if the client supports text selection and clipboard copy, that is – and, then, paste the URL manually to the address bar of a Windows Mobile Web browser.

Also, if your client doesn't support logging, you can still use copy/paste to copy the contents of your discussion to the clipboard and, from there, to a file. This is, however, far from automatic and also depends on whether copy / paste is supported at all.

Protocol-specific group: in here, I’ve elaborated on what services the given client supports and how it works with them; does it have specific bugs with them and so on.

New message notification; suspended modegroup: if you plan to use your IM application mostly for receiving messages, you’ll really want to scrutinize what has been stated in these tests.

in-program, if multitabs are utilized, are they colored?: While you’re actively chatting with a contact or browsing the user list and a(nother) contact sends you a message, what does happen? As most user interfaces are tabulated (using multiple tabs; that is, multitabs), I’ve mostly concentrated on whether you can see at once who has sent the new message to you; one of the most commonly used ways of doing this is making the tab – which contains the chat session with the given buddy - red.

Suspended mode usable on Windows Mobile phones?: this is one of the most important rows. If you do plan to use an IM app to be able to receive messages the entire day, you can only achieve this if you suspend your Windows Mobile phone to greatly reduce its power consumption. This should be a major deciding factor when you plan to select an IM application.

Not all applications are suspending-friendly; a most important example of these is PocketICQ. Fortunately, all the other non-disqualified IM apps support operating in suspended state; so can, as far as IRC clients are concerned, wmIRC.

What notification settings / capabilities are used?: if you do plan to rely on the audio / vibration notification capabilities of an IM client, you will want to choose one that supports preferably both if you often rely on vibration (which is available in all Windows Mobile phones).

Unfortunately, vibration isn't necessarily supported in all IM applications. As a rule of thumb, applications that rely on the system-level Sounds and Notifications settings applet to set the type of their notifications don't have problems with vibration either. Applications that don't rely on the system-level settings won't necessarily support vibration (albeit some do - for example, wmIRC or mChat / gsICQ).

A quick note for developers of applications: it's actually very easy to add system-level notification support to any application - it's just a question of adding some registry keys.

Today plug-in: several IM applications also have a Today plug-in so that you can always see whether they're online and whether there are any new messages / buddies around. Please consult the individual chart cells to find out how each Today plug-in behaves.

Misc: CPU usage while listening to incoming messages with all the possible networks logged in?: particularly with waiting for incoming messages for more than a few minutes, the processor (CPU) usage of the given IM application becomes of interest (unless the messaging is SMS-based because, then, the mobile only wakes up and starts executing your IM application when there's an incoming instant messaging-related SMS). The less CPU usage, the better. Fortunately, almost all IM applications have negligible CPU usage; the only exception is WebMessenger, which has a bit higher CPU usage, resulting in a bit (not much!) reduced battery life.

Doc quality?: in here, I've explained whether the on/offline application documentation is verbose and comprehensive enough. I've also linked in the online documentation, whenever available, to make your life easier.

Conference (MSN: Action / Invite a contact to join this conversation; ICQ: Start a multi chat icon; Yahoo: Action / Invite to a conference; Google Talk and AIM, as of now, don’t allow for group chat): many IM services support "conferencing" or "group chatting". In here, I've examined how the WM IM clients support this.

As can clearly be seen, if you need groupchat support on WM, go for either Jabber and imov Messenger Enterprise (this is the ideal solution for the Jabber-based enterprise with groupchat needs) or MSN / Live Messenger. The latter two are the only MSN clients to offer seamless groupchat support. Finally, of course, you can always use the venerable IRC clients for groupchat.

Flags?: in cases, you won't want to show your contacts you're ready to talk. That is, you will want to modify your presence information. In here, I've elaborated on what states (flags) you can choose from.

Note that I haven't elaborated on the auto-away flag because none of the clients set the state to "Away" automatically, unlike on the desktop. This is, of course, understandable as you most probably always have your Windows Mobile device with you, ready to be reached , even when you're otherwise away from your desktop computer.

Mobile flag?: some (not all!) services also support showing a flag like "the user is using a mobile device". You may want to prefer a client that does support this flag so that you can effectively show your party you won't be able to type as fast as on a desktop computer because of the non-existing or, at least, far smaller / more awkward hardware keyboard. Unfortunately, very few clients support this.

Unicode support?: while most services (except for some really old ones; for example, IRC) do support (16-bit) Unicode characters, not all client products support these (unlike on the desktop). Note that, while Unicode may not be supported, as with IRC, you can still switch 8-bit codepages in most clients. That is, if you both use a 8-bit char page (for example, Cyrillic, Central-European, Turkish etc), you can still use all your national, non-Western characters even with clients not supporting Unicode. It's only real Unicode communication (with languages that, because of the huge number of their characters, can't use a 256-character 8-bit page) that's impossible with these IM clients.

Note that I've tested Unicode transfer in both directions because it's possible Unicode characters will only be transferred (and rendered) in one direction but not in the opposite one.

SOCKS proxy support?: in here, I've elaborated on the Socks (and, to a lesser degree - unfortunately, less clients support HTTP clients, even when almost all the messaging protocols support it -, HTTP) proxy support. When not used in the enterprise, you most probably don't need the support for this; however, if you do have a local firewall blocking all non-standard remote ports (for example, those of IRC), unless you have a Socks and/or HTTP proxy-capable client, you won't be able to communicate.

Multiple logins with more than one account to the same network?: while some desktop clients (for example, IRC) allow for multi-logins using the same client (or an independently started instance), this isn't the case with Windows Mobile ones.

I haven't listed the ability to log in using the same account but on different devices. Protocol-level support for this would be really nice (see for example the section "MPOP and presence by observation" here) but, alas, not all protocols support this. The two most important ones that do are Jabber and AIM. With these protocols, you can log in from your mobile device, which not (necessarily) will result in your already logged-in instance to be logged out.

... and to different networks?: multi-service clients (there are several of them - all the reviewed IM clients, except for PocketICQ, gsICQ and IRC) are able to make use of all the supported services by logging into them at the same time - just like Gaim or Trillian on the desktop.

Offline (non-mail) messages?: some IM clients support the underlying feature of delayed message delivery in almost all current services. (Exceptions are IRC, if you don't use an add-on messaging service and at least older versions of Skype are the only notable exceptions; see the "Asynchronous message relaying" column here.) Unfortunately, not all - in here, I've elaborated on which client supports this and which doesn't.

User control: in here, I've elaborated on what buddylist features the reviewed IM client has - for example, is it able to answer to other users' contact addition requests. I've also mentioned if a particular client has user group editing operations (they do support all groups already available on the server side). User groups are very useful; for example, they allow for separating your workmates from your friends.

Editing functionality includes, for example, creating a user group and moving contacts to there. This will, then, be synchronized back to the IM server so that, no matter where you log in from, you'll see the same user group structure in your IM application.

In general, all apps work flawlessly with contacts and groups. The only exception, as of version 0.10, is OctroTalk, which always makes the user have to let all past MSN users added as contacts (also see this AximSite post for more info). This is really annoying!

Voice chat?: some IM applications also support voice chatting (Voice over IP, VoIP). In here, I've elaborated on these features.

File transfer?: file transfer is supported by all instant messaging protocols but, unfortunately, few Windows Mobile clients.

Some apps that do support it (to some degree) do it in a non-direct way; that is, uploading the files to their central server and only pasting the (temporary) URL to the file to the target of the file. This is why you'll only see URL's passed with these clients, not the standard, “embedded†file transfer interface.

Text formatting (AIM : full formatting; Yahoo: Bold / Italic / Underlined; IRC: the same + colors + inverse)? (MSN: Edit / Change font only changes the font of the entire current / following messages; that is, it offers no real formatting capabilities; ICQ and Google Talk: absolutely no formatting capabilities): some IM services / clients, most importantly, Yahoo and IRC (and to a much less degree, MSN), allow for text styling / formatting. In here, I've scrutinized whether Yahoo / IRC / (MSN)-compliant Windows Mobile IM clients are able to correctly render styled text. (None of them are able to actually produce styled text.)

Quick edit shortcuts (Ctrl-A, Delete, Ctrl+arrow etc): Particularly if you use your IM client with an external (for example, Bluetooth) keyboard or use your desktop's keyboard via a Windows Mobile controller application (for example, Pocket Controller – see this for more info), you will want to go for a client that allows for the standard keyboard cursor movement shortcuts to greatly speed up for example text modification / correction before submitting it. Fortunately, only one application (WebMessenger) doesn't support this at all; all the other IM clients support this almost flawlessly.

Bandwidth usage (transmitted/received bytes in kilobytes): login, 10 minutes and a long-time test with one-hour long data: In here, you can not only check the bandwidth usage of most clients but also that of the protocols themselves, should you want to base your service / protocol selection based on (also) bandwidth usage.

If you use a non-unlimited data plan with your data connection-based client, you may also want to know which client and which service / protocol consumes the least bandwidth and what combinations (for example, ICQ with enabled and, in most cases, useless "keep alive" pinging every half a minute) should be entirely avoided. As can be seen, MSN (and Live) Messenger (which both use direct connections) use a bit more bandwidth than most other clients using the same MSN protocol. It's also worth pointing out that the bandwidth usage of Jabber, ICQ and IRC is even less. That is, if you really want to minimize your bandwidth usage, you may want to choose the last three protocols instead of, say, MSN. (Or, if your enterprise already supports it, go straight for Exchange-based Push Mail for notification purposes – particularly after applying the well-known "heartbeat" hack, it consumes the least bandwidth.)

Of particular interest are the bandwidth usage figures of OctroTalk. While its Google Talk (that is, Jabber) and ICQ (in the ICQ test, it consumed a little over the mChat / gsICQ figures) bandwidth usage figures are only slightly smaller than those of the alternative clients / services, the MSN test produced some astonishing results. Compared to the Microsoft MSN / Live Messenger clients, which use about 28 (12+16) kbytes an hour, OctroTalk only uses a little less than 6 (0.5+5.3) kbytes. This means OctroTalk only uses one-fifth (!) of the bandwidth of Microsoft’s official solution. Compared to other MSN-capable clients (all (except for IM+) alternative MSN clients use about half of the uplink bandwidth of the Microsoft clients), it still has some advantage – it uses about 3.5 times less bandwidth to keep the connection up.

This means if you really need to use MSN but you must have the absolutely least possible bandwidth usage, you may want to take a serious look at the OctroTalk client. (Otherwise, if you don’t need to minimize the bandwidth usage, for strictly MSN communication, my personal pick is still Microsoft’s Live Messenger because of the excellent features.)

(MSN) avatars? : Finally, none of the otherwise MSN-compatible clients support MSN avatars (small icons), except for, surprise surprise, Live Messenger. The latter even allow for changing it yourself on your mobile device.

2.2 Not tested

2.2.1 Mobile (GPRS etc.) connection keep-up

In my tests, most applications behaved quite OK. However, there may be problems in your particular case, particularly if you use instant messaging on a mobile phone. In these cases, if you lose the connection after some time, you may want to check out for example this registry hack to fix the problem.

2.2.2 Task keep-alive

I haven’t checked whether the current versions of the IM apps can force the operating system not to shut down the given application when the standard “let’s kill a background†task to free up some memory / when we’ve reached the 32-process limit of all WindowsCE versions (that is, even Windows Mobile 6) before 6 (note that WM6 is still based on the, process number restriction-wise, “old†WinCE 5.2). You won’t have this problem at all if you don’t run memory-hungry and/or several other processes (for example, you don’t open up more than 15-20 tabs in the excellent Windows Mobile Web browser, Opera Mobile). If you only have 4-10 apps running at a time and you have at least 5 Mbytes of free (dynamic) RAM, I’m pretty sure your IM app won’t be silently killed, even when it doesn’t support forcing itself to remain active.

I’ve only made tests with starting all the clients at once but, to avoid clashes, not logging into anywhere. Then, I’ve increased memory usage and the number of active processes by mass-starting other applications. In general, all the tested applications were shut down after a while. Note that IM+ has a checkbox to avoid this situation; I haven't enabled it when running this test.

Please see for example this thread for more info on this problem.

3. Other links of interest

A cool, recommended overview & comparison of some apps

eWeek: "Mobile IM Landscape Shows Room for Growth"

What is your messaging application of choice?

Generic “Looking for a IM / chat client similar to Yahoo messenger“

Gerneric “The Best Instant Messenger (IM)â€

Google Talk On Your Pocket PC

Mobile Chat Rooms?

A Jabber-related thread (“Jabber Releases PocketPC Clientâ€)

Cross-posted to: PPCT, MobilitySite, AximSite, XDA-Developers, FirstLoox, BrightHand, HowardForums, TheSmallPicture.

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