You can use Microsoft's nifty chat client, Comic Chat, with ICS to enhance your chat experience. Comic Chat offers a twist you won't find in any other chat client on the market: The interface looks like an ever-changing comic strip. Most chat clients are simply text based; consequently, you see only lines of text on the screen as people type messages to each other. With Comic Chat, you enter text messages, but the text messages appear in an ongoing cartoon strip drawn in realtime on your screen. (Keep in mind that you can use Comic Chat with almost any IRC server, but the comic strip functionality works best with ICS.)

Setting the Stage
The first time you run the software, you get a dialog box that asks for your nickname, which Comic Chat uses to identify you during your chat sessions. Enter a nickname (or use your real name, if you want); then click OK. A new dialog box asks for the names of the chat server and the chat channel you want to connect to. The first time you run Comic Chat, click Cancel so that you can configure the chat client. Comic Chat displays a message that says you are working offline (because you didn't choose a chat server).

Choose View, then Options to display the Options dialog box, which contains four property pages: Personal Info, Settings, Character, and Background. On the Personal Info page, enter information in the fields as you see fit. Next, click the Character tab to view the 12 characters (or avatars) you can choose from to represent yourself. (I personally prefer Xeno, who looks like an alien.) Select one of the characters, then click the Background tab to display the list of available backgrounds. Select the one you like and click OK to close the Options dialog box. Now you're ready to start chatting.

Talk to Me
To begin your first chat session, select New Connection from the File menu. In the Connect dialog box, keep the default chat server (comicsrv.microsoft.com), enter #Chatzone for the chat room, and press OK to connect to the chat server. You'll be online in Micro-soft's Chatzone in a few seconds. Comic strip panels will appear on the screen as users type in messages. Each time someone enters a new message, a new panel is drawn on the screen, thus creating the ongoing comic strip.

The Comic Chat interface displays five panes, as shown in Screen A. The top left pane is the main window where the comic strip appears. The top right pane lists all the users in the chat room with their selected character. The middle right pane shows your character with its current facial expression. The bottom right pane displays all the facial expressions available for your character. The bottom left pane is where you enter your message text. Just type in your message, choose a facial expression, and press Enter. That's all you have to do!

The four buttons at the bottom of the screen let you control how Comic Chat uses and displays your text in the comic strip: Your text can represent something you said, thought, or whispered, or it can represent a descriptive action. I won't go into the details here, but you can easily discover what the buttons do by experimenting with them. Also, Comic Chat's online Help provides thorough information about how the product works.

Comic Chat
Microsoft * 206-882-8080
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ie/comichat
Price: Download for free at Microsoft's Web site
System Requirements: Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 95, 486 66MHz CPU, 8MB RAM (Pentium with at least 16MB RAM recommended), 256 color video display, Internet connection of at least 9600bps, 4MB disk space