Archive for July, 2009

Rediscover QQ/TM

QQ, formerly known as OICQ was set out to be a localized version of ICQ. I don’t remember when Tencent released the very first version but it began to gain popularity when I was in high school. Back then it was a real exciting thing to chat with friends and strangers online. You can query based on QQ (in China it is also referred to the numerical ID of your QQ account, other than the client itself), nickname, city, etc., in order to find a stranger to chat. This might seem a bit weird nowadays but back then it was a good way to escape from reality.

The earlier version of QQ was very lite. The setup file was only 700kB and can easily fit onto a floppy disk. But it had done its job well. I liked it so much that I purchased one year of premium membership, which gave me a chance to select some special QQ id along with a bunch of other benefits. I selected a 6-digit QQ with the last three being my birthday. By the way, even now a lot of people would be amazed by special QQ id (i.e., 88888888, 123456789) and are willing to pay a premium for it.

After a couple years of evolution, Tencent has expanded its platform. There was this notion of costumes that you can use to customize your avatar. Some of those were free while the fancier ones would cost money. They don’t deal with cash directly but you purchase QQ cash instead. Since the exchange rate is 1:1 for Chinese Yuan (not sure about now), QQ cash has become a very popular currency in the QQ community. But that’s not all, QQ has incorporated QQ games, anti-virus, browser, QQ space, downloader, etc. It almost as if the only thing Tencent did not have is its own operating system. As a result the client got very bulky and slowed down my computer quite a bit. I checked if there’s a way of not installing the unnecessary components but came up with no solution (not sure about how it is now). I also got very tired/bored of being harassed by strangers, and finally gave up QQ for MSN messenger. MSN (now renamed to Windows Live Messenger), interestingly, seems to follow the same path of QQ by trying to incorporate many community services and most annoying of all, flash advertisements (I don’t think even QQ has this “feature”). It is consuming a lot more memory than it used to be (and I started to favor Google Talk), more on that probably in another post.

What I do like are two of the features QQ provides: group chat and resumable file transfer. You can basically establish groups and invite people to join, and the group remains there until if the owner wants to delete it. The whole idea is for a group of people sharing the same interests to have a common ground to, well, have conversation. I know that MSN had the feature of inviting people to start group chat long time ago, but only recently did Windows Live Messenger incorporate the feature of groups. And of all IMs I have used, I don’t know any clients other than QQ that support resumable file transfer. To make things even more cumbersome (perhaps only for me }:-), many people now use those “one-for-all” type of IMs: Pidgin, Adium, Meebo (web-based) or IM within Gmail. This on one hand makes it really convenient for communicating with different IM accounts, but on the other hand you give up all the nice features of the particular IM clients: drag-n-drop file transferring, video/audio chat, screen-sharing (iChat). Nonetheless, it really boils down to personal preference, if my friends like it that way I just have to live with sending files as email attachments.

Although I abandoned QQ for quite a while, I have to admit that QQ has a significant success of marketing in China (considering ICQ almost dead in US). Furthermore, they are trying to improve. There is another IM client sharing the same account but with only the essential features of QQ, called Tencent Messenger (TM). It is “designed for communications among business people” hence those unnecessary components were stripped away. Couple of years ago Tencent finally released the English version of QQ and TM, this was a push for me to restart using my QQ id with TM (I mainly use English OS with US regional settings). QQ now also has versions for Linux and OS X (links to Chinese website, English website only has download for Windows version) it also finds its way to other mobile platforms as well. Particularly, I was amazed when I found out that the developers have ported QQ to iPhone OS. Although the clients on all the other platforms are not full-fledged – the interfaces look simple and the features are limited, I think they’ve made good effort and progress in trying to transport QQ onto other platforms.

Another interesting feature that I would like to emphasize is screen-grabbing during chats. Basically you click on the button and it enters screenshot mode, you drag the mouse to determine a region and then double click. The image will be copied to your sending box (where you type your messages, since it can now include images, it is not quite accurate to be called “textbox”), hence sharing information couldn’t be more easier (this works in both individual chat and group chat). Imagine if you want to send a piece of code for some one to read, with this you can send a nicely formatted version with a few clicks (if you want to argue that you cannot copy-n-paste directly from IM window to wherever else, meh, I am just illustrating an example here). I really like this feature and I don’t see any other IMs have it (actually one of the reasons I started to use TM again).

There are still improvements that can be made. First of all, the TM client (not sure about QQ) does not work well in multiple monitor setup. The main window automatically attaches to the right edge of the left screen (and “hides” itself in the right screen) if you try to drag it to your right screen. You will not be able to maximize the chat window in the secondary screen (the chat window will just disappear but not closed) and the screen-grabbing feature does not work on the secondary screen. Lastly, I would love it if QQ/TM saves chat histories on the servers (just like Gtalk/Gmail) since from time to time I do need access to them. Not everyone wants this though (especially when they are more of keep-it-off-the-record type of people).

I never thought I’d say this, but I do feel very proud of the developers of QQ/TM. For some of you who are interested, I highly recommend you to try it out and let your friends know about it. The English version can be downloaded here (Windows only, I will check if OS X and Linux version have English language option).