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Introduction to Messages

by
Gift

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Messages is an easily overlooked app, but it can be a messaging powerhouse. In this tutorial, I will look at how to sync your iMessages with your Mac and iOS devices and add all of your third-party instant messaging accounts. By the end of this tutorial, you’ll have learned to create and set statuses, initiate video and audio chats, and even how to use Messages for screen sharing.


1. Sync Messages With Your Phone

Step 1

You can get your iPhone iMessages on your Mac and even respond to them from the Messages app. The process is pretty similar for syncing iMessages on any iOS device, though the process will vary slightly depending on whether it’s an iPhone with a telephone number for sending SMS as well as iMessages. Users who don’t have any iOS devices can skip ahead.

I’ll start by configuring Messages on your iOS device, and I’ll be using my iPhone. Locate the Messages preferences in Settings. Tap Send & Receive to select the email address(es) you’ll be using. If you are signed into iCloud on your device, you’ll see that Apple ID at the top of the screen. If you aren’t signed in or it’s the wrong Apple ID, back out and log into iCloud with the Apple ID you intend to use with iCloud on both your iOS device and Mac.

Ensure you are logged in with your Apple ID and any email addresses you intend to use are listed.
Ensure you are logged in with your Apple ID and any email addresses you intend to use are listed.

Once logged into the correct iCloud account, return to the Send & Receive options in the Messages preferences. Beneath the heading that reads You can be reached by iMessage at: you should see your phone number if you are using an iPhone and your Apple ID. If your Apple ID hasn’t made it into the list, go ahead and add it now by tapping Add Another Email. You can add any other email addresses you want to use this way, as well.

Designate how you'd like to send and receive messages.
Designate how you'd like to send and receive messages.

Apple will send a verification email to any address that is not already associated with your Apple ID. When the email arrives, click the verification link and log in with the Apple ID associated with Messages. After a few moments, iOS will display an alert that your email address has been added to iMessage. Don’t forget to choose whether you want to start new conversations from your phone number or your email address.

Step 2

Open System Preferences on your Mac and make sure you’re logged into iCloud with the same Apple ID as your phone. While this isn’t required to make Messages work, it will sync your Contacts information, creating a better Messages experience.

You can sync your contacts with iCloud.
You can sync your contacts with iCloud.

On your Mac, open the Messages application. You’ll need to make sure your Apple ID is connected so you get all of your iMessages to your Mac. Open Preferences ( Messages > Preferences... ) and select the Accounts tab. Find and select the iMessage account in the list to the left.

Enable iMessages and select the email addresses you want to use.
Enable iMessages and select the email addresses you want to use.

Log in using the same Apple ID and password as before on your iOS device. Make sure Enable this account is selected. Next, select the email addresses we added above so that your friends can contact you via iMessage on your Mac. If you want to receive iMessages sent to your phone number, select that as well.

How do you want to begin conversations?
How do you want to begin conversations?

At the bottom you’ll find a drop-down that lets you choose how you start new conversations, whether from your phone number or an email address. Only the addresses you selected above will be listed here.


2. Enable Bonjour

Bonjour in Messages allows Macs on the same network to chat with one another and share files. You don’t have to configure anything or sign up for any instant message accounts, because everything is built right into your Mac and Messages.

Bonjour allows you to chat with Mac users on your network.
Bonjour allows you to chat with Mac users on your network.

With Bonjour enabled, choose whether you want others to see your idle status. You can also publish your email and instant message addresses, too. If you prevent others from seeing how to contact you outside of Bonjour, remember that anyone using a Mac on your local network will still see your full name.


3. Add a Google Talk, Yahoo!, or AIM Account

It’s very simple to add a Google Talk, Yahoo!, or AIM account to Messages. Click the plus sign below the accounts list, and select the account type from the drop-down list. All you need to do is enter your username and password and click done, and Messages will add your chat account.

Select your account type.
Select your account type.

You can turn each account on and off in the Account Information tab by selecting Enable this account. In the Chat Settings tab, set a nickname for the account, especially useful if you have several chat accounts of the same type, and decide how many messages to show in a chat window.

Edit your account settings.
Edit your account settings.

4. Add a Facebook Chat or Other Jabber Account

There are lots of other ways to send messages, and a lot of them use XMPP, or Jabber. The process for adding a Jabber account is the same as adding a Google Talk or AIM account, but it can be more difficult to identify your username or account information. If you’re having trouble, contact support for the service you’re trying to connect. I’ll run through connecting a Facebook Chat account as an example.

Step 1

First, identify your Facebook username. Go to Facebook and click your own name in the upper left to reach your profile. Look in the address bar on your profile page; the URL will be something like https://www.facebook.com/YOURFACEBOOKUSERNAME. Copy your username to the clipboard; you’ll need it to connect Messages with your Facebook Chat account.

Tip: If you haven’t selected a Facebook username yet, you can do that in the Facebook username preferences. Facebook limits the number of times you can set or change your username, so make sure you go with something you really want.

Step 2

Add a new account in Messages, but this time select Jabber for the account type. Your account name is YOURFACEBOOKUSERNAME@chat.facebook.com. Once logged in, you can change the chat settings for the account.

Enter your Jabber account username password.
Enter your Jabber account username password.

5. Send a New Message

Click the pen icon next to the search field to open a new message. Click inside the To: field and begin typing your recipient’s name to address your message. Messages lets you send a single message to multiple recipients; just type out each recipient’s name individually, hitting Enter between each name. Search Contacts by clicking the blue plus sign.

Click the pen icon to start a new message, and enter your recipient's name.
Click the pen icon to start a new message, and enter your recipient's name.

Once you’ve chosen your recipient(s), begin typing your message in the text field at the bottom of the Messages window. Add emoticon smileys by clicking the face to the right of the text field, and send your message by hitting Enter.

Type a message at the bottom, and even add smileys.
Type a message at the bottom, and even add smileys.

You can also start a new message from the Buddy List. To view your buddy lists, select the Window menu, and then choose an instant messaging service. Each account has its own buddy list, except iMessage. Combine all of your buddies into a single buddy list by selecting Show all my accounts in one list from the General pane in the Messages application preferences ( Messages > Preferences > General ).


6. Set Your Status

The status menu is available in the lower left of the main Messages window. You can let your contacts know whether you are available, busy, or offline from this menu.

Choose a new status.
Choose a new status.

Tip: To set a single, global status, select Use Same Status for All Accounts.

Step 1

The default status messages may not accurately reflect what you’re doing at any moment. For instance, you may want to let your contacts know that you’ll be back in ten minutes or tell your co-workers what project you’re working on. “Surfing the web” isn’t going to get the job done.

Create new statuses that more accurately represent what you're doing.
Create new statuses that more accurately represent what you're doing.

Click Edit Status Menu... to create your own messages. Some status messages are going to be one time use only, such as “Watching Game of Thrones finale! Message me and DIE like Ned Stark!” It’s probably okay if Messages doesn’t hang onto that status, but if you’d like Messages to remember the custom messages you keep in more regular rotation, make sure you’ve checked Remember custom messages. Messages will remember all of your messages, or you can set how many it should keep around.

Step 2

I often walk away, leaving my turned Mac on and Messages running at full steam. From time to time, we all walk away from our computers and don’t return as quickly as we thought we would. It’s cool, but if you’ve forgotten to change your Messages status, you may be inadvertently shunning your closest friends as they pour their hearts out to you via instant message.

Let Messages tell you're friends that you're away from the computer.
Let Messages tell you're friends that you're away from the computer.

That doesn’t have to happen, though, because Messages can automatically set your status to Away when you’re idle. Open the General pane in the Messages application preferences ( Messages > Preferences > General ). Make sure Set my status to Away after the computer is inactive and When I quit Messages, set my status to Offline are selected. If you’d like Messages to reset your status to Available when you return, choose that option below. You can also set your away preferences for fast user switching here, too.

Messages will also auto-reply with your Away message.
Messages will also auto-reply with your Away message.

7. Save Your Messages

You may want to keep everything on the q.t. and prefer no records of your conversations remain. For those of us who aren’t employed in the clandestine services, our friends sometimes message us addresses, phone numbers, or important bits of data, and being fallible humans, we forget to save that information somewhere more useful than a Messages window. That’s okay, because Messages can save it for you.

Messages will log your conversations.
Messages will log your conversations.

Open the Messages pane in the Messages application preferences ( Messages > Preferences > Messages ). Ensure Save history when conversations are closed is selected. With that toggled on, Messages will save a transcript of each conversation.

Your Messages Archive folder is in the OS X Library folder.
Your Messages Archive folder is in the OS X Library folder.

It’s a bit less straightforward when it comes to actually getting to those chat archives, though. In Finder, hold the Option key and click the Go menu to reveal the Library ( Option+Go > Library ). Once in the Library folder, locate the Archive folder within Messages ( Library > Messages > Archive ). Here you’ll find all of your chat logs sorted into folders by date and your contact’s name. Once you’ve located the correct log or range of logs, you may open each file and review it in Messages.


8. Initiate a Video, Voice or FaceTime Chat

You can use the Messages built-in video chat feature to chat with your friends or even host small video conferences, but you can only chat across a single service. Everyone must be using the same instant messaging service if you want to chat with several friends.

Tip: Before we get started, make sure you have video and audio chat enabled in Messages via the Video menu ( Video > Video Chat Enabled ).

Step 1

Initiate a video chat by clicking the camera icon next to your friend’s name in the chat window or by clicking the green camera icon next to your friend’s name in your buddy list. If your friend accepts, a new video chat window will open. To voice chat, right-click on your friend’s name and choose Invite to Audio Chat.

A green camera icon indicates that your buddy is available for video or voice chat.
A green camera icon indicates that your buddy is available for video or voice chat.
Accept or decline the video chat invite. Send a text response if you can't chat right now.
Accept or decline the video chat invite. Send a text response if you can't chat right now.

There are a few caveats, as Messages will not work 100% for everyone. AIM accounts can video and voice chat to Macs using iChat or Messages and PCs using AIM for PC, but Google Talk and Jabber accounts can only video and voice chat to other Macs using iChat or Messages. Yahoo! messenger accounts in Messages don’t support video or voice chat at all.

Messages makes video chat really simple.
Messages makes video chat really simple.

This means that if you want to video chat with a friend using one of these services and who isn’t using either iChat or Messages, you’re going to have a problem. You’ll likely need to log into the service’s web app or download a third-party app.

Step 2

You can also initiate FaceTime video chats right from within Messages, too. FaceTime is available on OS X 10.6 and later and iOS 4 and later, so it’s perfect for video chatting with friends and colleagues with Macs and iOS devices.

Initiating a new FaceTime chat in Messages will launch the FaceTime application.
Initiating a new FaceTime chat in Messages will launch the FaceTime application.

In the chat window, click the camera icon, and Messages will display a drop-down of all of your video chatting options with your friend, including your options for FaceTime chat. When you click the camera icon and choose an email address or phone number to connect with your friend, the FaceTime app will launch separately. When you’ve completed your FaceTime call, simply hang up to return to Messages.


9. Use Messages for Screen Sharing

Messages is a great app to facilitate screen sharing between Macs, provided that both Macs are running Messages or iChat. Similar to video chat, you’ll find you’re able to screen share with friends who have a green camera icon next to their names in your buddy list.

Step 1

Right-click on a name in your buddy list, and select Ask to Share [...]'s Screen. Your friend will get an invitation that you’d like to screen share, and he may accept or decline with a message. When you’re sharing someone else’s screen, end screen sharing by clicking in the My Computer window to close the shared screen window or clicking End Screen Sharing from the menu ( Buddies > End Screen Sharing ).

Send a request to share your friend's screen.
Send a request to share your friend's screen.
Messages won't grab someone else's screen without asking first.
Messages won't grab someone else's screen without asking first.

Step 2

Share your own screen with a friend by selecting a contact in your buddy list and then choosing Share My Screen With [...] from the menu ( Buddies > Share My Screen With [...] ). Once again, an invitation will be sent to your friend, and if accepted, your friend will take temporary control of your computer. End screen sharing by clicking the orange screen share icon in the menu bar and selecting End Screen Sharing.

Move between your own screen and your friend's screen as you screen share.
Move between your own screen and your friend's screen as you screen share.

Conclusion

There’s a lot more to Messages than just sending and receiving text instant messages. With the ability to combine third-party instant messaging services and Apple’s iMessages, Messages may be able to unseat other messaging app big shots. We walked through syncing Messages on your Mac with your iOS device, adding your instant messaging accounts, creating and setting statuses, video and audio chatting, and even using Messages for screen sharing. Messages is an app with a lot of great features if you dig just a little bit deeper.

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