Date: July 26, 2002
When all is said and done, there exists two markets in the Instant Messaging realm: the giants (MSN messenger, AOL IM, etc.) and the little people (Trillian, and other homegrown messaging services). Well, another chat program has joined the fray and it’s about to take the world by storm. Let’s journey into the realm of BitWise Chat.
BitWise Chat operates based on the principle that function supercedes form. If you want a “pretty” interface, go back to Trillian and its ability to be skinned. If you want interoperability with all the major chat services, download them all and have at it. If you want features such as Detached Mode, Ghosting, Macros, Offline Messaging and Retrieval, or Custom away messages based on users, then Bitwise is for you. If you want the ability to chat with other people without the messy overhead found in programs like MSN Messenger and AOL, then welcome to BitWise.
Founding Principles of BitWise
BitWise arose out of the frustration of AOL blocking access to Trillian. Kevin and Jon grew so tired of the large-company games and being reliant on their servers that they conceived the idea of making their own chat program. From the ground up, they aimed to have a client/server that they could use reliably and that would have all of the features that the users wanted. A short time after the notion was conceived, they ambitiously dove in with some proof-of-concept work, and before long, they had a very primitive client and server running on Perl on Linux. From there, Jon took interest in the server, written in C using gcc, and Kevin started working on a real Windows client. While the main thrust was first to get the basic messaging system working, they quickly branched into creating truly useful features, all while sticking true to their ideals of small, efficient code. For even further background, Jon has provided a glimpse into his worldview of BitWise: "While the direct connection design can be seen as a disadvantage in Internet-wide situations, this methodology is particularly advantageous in LAN situations where most of the users reside behind a common firewall. Unlike AIM or ICQ where if you open it [the firewall] up to allow your own users to connect to each other, placing the BitWise server on the inside of the firewall will let organizations make sure that their traffic stays where they have control over the connection - AND ensuring that users aren't spending their time talking to their outside friends. It's much easier to have a piece of software that has no outside connection capabilities, than to try and tell users that they are expected to use a particular program, and while they can see all their friends, they better not talk to them. The temptation factor is eliminated in a non-confrontational manner. Once we get an organization that wants to give it a shot, we'll work with them to develop a solution that fits their needs. The capability already exists for the administrator to restrict users actions (such as giving a group of users a common buddy list that cannot be altered), or allowing only selected users to accept file transfers from out of a particular network address space."
Ah! The element of simplicity. This is it. Talk about a clean front-end login screen. Just fill in the blanks with your username and password, optionally click Remember Password and follow-through with the Log In button. You also have the option of logging in as invisible (i.e. no one can see that you’re online) or as detached. The Detached Login mode is exciting because you log in without ever hitting the server. As with detached mode (discussed later), you can initiate connections with any buddies that may be online, but, since you’re not connecting to the server, you won’t know if they’re online. This mode can be useful if you need to connect to BitWise but the server is down or your connection to the server is flaky. No information will be sent to the server until you re-attach. Once you’ve chosen your login mode, the server will authenticate you (in non-detached modes only) and your buddy list will be displayed.
Once again, the simple elegance of BitWise cannot be ignored. You have only 4 intuitive buttons to deal with: Add (which adds a new buddy), Online (which allows you to set your online status), Preferences (where most of the options are set) and Profile (which allows you to directly edit your profile.) How many chat programs can boast of this? To start chatting, double-click on one of your buddies…You can tell at a glance whether or not they’re available to chat by the bright yellow light bulb next to their name. If they're away, the light bulb will be a dark gray and if they're not logged on, the light bulb will be clear. The Chat window, once again, is very clean. The top area is for the conversation, the bottom area is for you to type in, and there’s only two buttons waiting or you: Send and Send File. Send does exactly what it says and…guess what? Send File does to! Sending files need not be a difficult thing, just click Send File, select the file name, add a file description, and click Send. Your file is directly sent to the recipient (and it works if one user is behind a firewall.) So, chat away!
Let’s get to the real meat behind BitWise: the Preferences menu. What would a chat program be without options? An empty shell. Options are good and they make the end-user experience much better. So, what does BitWise have to offer?
When you click on the Preferences button on the buddy list, you’re taken to a multi-tabbed window. Each tab sets the category for the options it controls. For example, the Chat tab handles the basic chatting options including (but definitely not limited to) logging, message retrieval, fonts, etc. Of course the Chat tab is just one of 7 tabs you can choose from. For the purpose of this review, we’re just going to hit the highlights. Some of these highlights include the ability to log your chat sessions, time stamping, custom away messages based ON THE USER!, macros, offline messaging and delivery, and ghosting. Let's get into the details of these options.
There are plenty of other options to explore. However, we'll leave it up to you to register, download your own copy, and play with it!
Creativity is nothing without purpose. In BitWise, we have both purpose and creativity. On one hand, we have the BitWise ideals of minimal server interactions, direct connects, and ease of use. On the other hand, we have the creative use of function superceding form. Together, the whole is complete. Is the BitWise version I reviewed the final revision? Certainly not! BitWise has the advantage of having a small user base currently and the beauty of this is the ability to tailor the client to the user's needs. Consider it the "mandate of the people," if you will. The challenge in all of this is for you, the reader, to actively take it upon yourself to test, try and prove BitWise to be the chat program I have made it out to be. We will be creating a forum thread here that you can use to discuss your joys and tribulations with Bitwise. If it works, let us know and if it fails you in some way, we want to know that too! Also, please visit the website at http://www.bitwisechat.com to see some of the background, revisions, outstanding bugs, screen shots, etc. that BitWise has undergone. If you're a registered user, you can log in to send offline messages to other users, retrieve any offline messages that you may have received, view who's online, and find other users. Last, and definitely most importantly, BitWise depends on you. We need a solid user base that will actively use the service to help get rid of the bugs and suggest new ideas or approaches to chatting.
Looking forward to seeing you online soon!
Dave Graham (aka "Flicker180" on BitWise)
A Brief Bio of Kevin and Jon, BitWiseChat's Founders
Kevin: "Born and raised in Oxford, OH, I've always been a small town boy with big city ideas. I've been using computers since I was 3 or 4 years old, and have been programming since I was 9 or 10. Computers have always been my primary focus, with my most intense interests falling in computer hardware and software programming. BitWise is not my first project, but is by far the largest and most ambitious. I'm currently triple-majoring at Miami of Ohio with majors in Computer Science, Systems Analysis, and Accounting. I will be graduating in summer 2003."
Jon: "I'm from Cleveland, OH and a senior at Miami majoring in Systems Analysis and Computer Science. My internship has me being a network and business security consultant for an industrial gas provider. I actually can't say much more than that about it. My fiancée is majoring in Journalism at Miami and writes articles and reports for several web sites."
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