Unique to our recent crop of instant messaging programs is Qnext--a free (and secure) personal communication and sharing suite that also serves as a universal instant messenger. It handles AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and (of course) Qnext accounts. The program also supports Internet Relay Chat (IRC).
Initially, my editor and I ran into connection problems. Both of us were logged on to Qnext, but each saw the other as offline. In this situation, one of the users must either open the ports on the firewall or router or use a proxy (our tactic). Thereafter, we were good to go.
Qnext handled conversations on AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger networks with ease. The messaging window displays prominent icons for actions such as setting time stamps, changing the display's background color, and a CC-ing (that is, sending a message to multiple Qnext contacts simultaneously). It also maintains unobtrusive buttons for changing text formats and for adding emoticons. Qnext's spelling checker came in handy in our tests, underlining possible misspellings as we typed. Unlike Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger, Qnext has no ads, toolbars, or other commercial junk.
Compared to Trillian Basic, Qnext does a so-so job of identifying contacts as belonging to AIM, ICQ, and so on. In my long list, each contact entry displayed a tiny symbol--the logo representing the IM program in question--beside the person's name. I had trouble distinguishing one small, gray symbol from another.
When the time came to make a phone call, I hit the phone icon in the messaging window. To my surprise (and my editor's), the image on my Webcam flashed up. Eek! How embarrassing to be caught on video unawares. Qnext permits you to turn off the video feed if you want to send audio only.
I was generally pleased with the quality of our PC-to-PC calls. We did encounter some stuttering sounds, however, and several sentences dropped off the radar completely. Video quality was good overall. Whenever the image turned into a mosaic-like picture, it quickly smoothed out again.
Qnext's file-sharing capabilities are its shining star. You create Zones to share content with your Qnext contacts: Microsoft Office files, photos, even MP3s. Then you can allow your pals to scope out your music collection and listen to individual tracks without downloading any files. Setting up (and managing) your Zones is a breeze.
The program's photo-sharing Zone feature is terrific, too. While viewing your buddy's collection of snaps, you can resize and rotate the images on the fly, run a slide show, or download the originals. Qnext also supports file transfer, so you can drag and drop files or folders onto your buddy's name.
On the security side, Qnext uses an embedded 192-bit encryption key on all of its Peer-to-Peer communications; all items sent over Qnext alone (as opposed to over a public network such as AOL's, MSN's, or Yahoo's) go directly from your PC to your contact's PC and won't be archived on an IM network's servers. When you use Qnext to access one of your IM networks, the program transfers any existing privacy/security settings you have with AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, or Yahoo Messenger (as does Trillian Basic).
Qnext pledges that its next release, version 2.2, will solve the issues we encountered with voice chat and with connecting through firewalls. Qnext 2.2 may be available by the time you read this.
Unlike any other IM application, this universal messenger offers music streaming along with file-sharing. Qnext might just be the ticket for your family- and work-oriented collaborations.
Aoife M. McEvoy
- Works with AIM, ICQ, IRC, MSN, Yahoo
- Terrific photo- and file-sharing features
- Icons make services appear too similar