There is little change from iChat 4 to iChat 5 that comes with Snow Leopard that if you have Updated your Intel Mac computer to Snow Leopard then iChat will be easy for you.
If, on the other hand you have never used iChat before this page and the ones it links to are the places to Start.
There are two main ways to do this.
As can be seen from the first picture the View menu > Messages Sub menu can change between Balloon, Text, Compact and Boxes.
Method 1. is self explanatory in that you go to the iChat Menu > Preferences and highlight/select the Messages Pane. From there you use the relevant Buttons and Drop downs to select the Font (Style/type), the Font Colour and the Bubble colour that you want to be seen as your Outgoing style. There are several pre-selected colours but the "Other" option brings up the System Colour selection panel/Wheel and you can select anything. If in the View Menu you have chosen the Text view option the colour chosen for the IM will be an IM background colour. Balloon will put you on the right. All other choices place you on the left along with your Buddies' IMs.
In choosing colours go for Light on Dark or Dark on Light to get the text to Stand out and use opposing colours, roughly Yellow with Blue, Green with Red and Magenta/Purple with Orange. See this example of two colours of Text on 216 coloured squares. We are talking here of basic 6 colour Printing techniques. (Of course there are exceptions).
In choosing a Font make sure it follows the basics of:-
Method 2. requires that you highlight a word or letter in the Text Entry field of a chat and then use the Format Menu to bring up the Font and /or Colour Pallets. Generally it is a One-Off use thing. You can also select a Formatting choice before typing. It allows you to make more extensive changes to the Font and colours. It will not change the Bubble colour here so you will have to remember what should work together as you only get to see it in Black on White before it is sent. Again the Font Choice has to depend on your Buddy having it.
There is one other choice in iChat 5. This is done through iChat > Preferences > Alerts. You select Message Sent in the Event drop down and then tick Applescript and select Mix Message Case AppleScript drop down along side.
Smileys are very common now. Most people know the basic Keystrokes to create their text based impression in an email or posting on a Discussion Forum. In fact the Apple Discussions recognise when people type :-) and convert as it is posted in to a picture like this (In fact the complete range can be accessed here) and are very close to the iChat ver 1 and 2 ones.
To Insert a Smiley there is a grey option button, smiley is looks, at the end of the Text Entry field and another option in the Edit Menu > Insert Smiley to do the same. I will let you play to discover which keystrokes create which Smiley.
This Smiley List is what appears from the Insert Smiley choice above.
There is an option in the View Menu > Messages to turn On or Off the effect of the Keystrokes
iChat coverts the Text version as you press enter and sends a Smiley as well as it being displayed as such in your Window/Balloon (or IM Style) entry.
You can also get "Smiley Packs" that add to the range of Smilies but these replace the iChat ones and depend on your Buddies having the same pack. A Note of caution here as to return to "normal" requires an iChat Reinstall !!
Sending what you type or have Copied and Pasted is done by hitting the Enter key.
If you Copy & Paste there is a limit to the amount of Text that can be sent in one go. Also the Text Entry field will now expand to view all (most, if you Paste a large block) that you enter.
Plain URLs and text converted to a Link can also be sent. At one time there was some abuse over the AIM Service of this so sending plain URLs can be better but it is still worth changing longer ones.
You do this by highlighting a word then use the item in the Edit Menu which brings up a Dialogue box to enter the full URL into.
You will notice that the Edit Menu has the Option with the Keystroke option of Apple Key ( or ⌘) and the K key to make a highlighted word become a Hyperlink and the box that appears shown below.
If you use Apple+k or the option in the menu without having highlighted a word iChat will substitute the word "here" for you as shown in the picture above.
In 1-1 Text chats, as you or your Buddy types, Thought Bubbles containing the three dots appear along side the Buddy Pic (if displayed) to indicate something will be coming or sent soon.
If you choose to use plain Text as the IM display then the thought Bubbles are replaced by three dots like so ...
Next: How to Send Files.
© Ralph Johns June 2010
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Having started a Text Chat the next step you may want to consider is formatting the chat with different colours and fonts. This includes adding Smilies to the Chat as you go and whether to use the Standard Speech Bubbles or plain text.
This section has the info on how to actually send that IM when typed and formatted. I also note that the Speech Bubbles appear when you or your Buddy are getting ready to send something.