ICQ is a different kind of Net shareware: co-op software

 This real-time conference chat system supports both Internet relay chat
and split-screen styles and, in theory, can handle an unlimited number of users. You can
send users uniform resource locators and take them on guided tours of Web sites or

 If a colleague is off line, you can send a message that pops up on the screen
whenever the person logs back on. You can even send such messages using your favorite
e-mail client.

 In an open environment with dozens of users, team members find one another through
ICQ's Yellow Pages. Agencies might use this feature for fulfilling information requests
from constituents or other agencies.

 ICQ is better for group conferencing than many video packages I've seen, especially
for many-to-many discussions. The program can even launch third-party applications such as
NetMeeting, InternetPhone, VDOPhone, Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator and most e-mail

 It automatically generates a transcript of chat sessions, so you can keep meticulous
records. I don't know if these transcripts would hold up in court, but they certainly are
valuable references, and you can e-mail them to people who didn't attend a

 The software integrates smoothly into desktop environments and sits quietly in the
background when idle. I installed the client on two PCs running Microsoft Windows 95,
without any system conflicts or crashes. ICQ specifications state the product uses no
connection bandwidth when connected but idle.

 Although the ICQ server monitors accounts and alerts users when listed members log
on or off, communication between users is peer-to-peer. Because the ICQ server is not part
of the loop, response time between users depends on their own connections-not the load on
ICQ's servers and connections.

 That's a good thing, because the ICQ servers seem close to flooding out
from traffic. It sometimes took several minutes for my client to log on to the server, and
other people have complained they've lost their server connections repeatedly.

 The ICQ product is outstanding, but I know little about Mirabilis. I tried to call
the company, but the telephone number listed for its California site was disconnected.
From information on the Web, I learned that it's an Israeli company with a U.S. presence.

 Government buyers should analyze the Mirabilis license agreement closely before
installing this software. My interpretation is that government employees can download and
use the software for free, but agency distribution requires an unspecified fee.

 If I were evaluating only the ICQ software, I would give it a solid B or A minus.
The only problem is occasional server overload.

 If I were evaluating just the company, it would fail for lack of voice support,
marketing support, working phone numbers and clear licensing policies. 

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