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  1.    #1  
    Marc was generous enough to accept me as an early alpha-tester of chatter, and as such I'd like to post a few of my thoughts on the application. I'm going to try hard to avoid hyperbole, but I consider it such an excellent application it'll be hard to. I will try to discuss what I think some people will perceive as shortcomings in Chatter but that will be much harder to do.

    Marc himself is probably the best part of Chatter. There are so few applications out in the freeware or even shareware domain that are developed by such dedicated and talented people, such as Scott from NotifyMail, Jason from Proteus, and Will from SnapperMail, and now Marc. He works tirelessly on Chatter and listens to all the feedback he gets from us and has done an amazing job of incorporating them if they're good and explaining to us why not when they're bad. I hope that when Marc finally releases Chatter that those who may be disappointed by it do not act out their frustration in inappropriate ways - much good freeware has been squelched by such behavior.

    That said, Chatter is a superb communication tool. It handles the multiplexed nature of IM beautifully, and does an excellent job of combining the communication channels of IM and mail into a single stream of consciousness. The interface is well thought out though it doesn't fully comply with the interface guidelines Palm has tried to set forth. However, had he stuck to those design guidelines, I doubt Chatter would work as well. Please take a look at some of the other Chatter threads for screenshots if you're more interested in this aspect of Chatter.

    Chatter is what I think is termed a "heavy" client - meaning that it connects directly to its resources (e.g. servers) and doesn't rely on a proxy. As such it relies heavily on a consistent data connection. It detects when Sprint or circumstances have disconnected your Treo and tries to reconnect. When reconnection occurs there's a lot of negotiation between Chatter, your IMAP host and your Jabber server. This is unavoidable, and is simply the result of how IMAP and IM work. Marc's ingenious design includes a background running thread that maintains this connection and alerts you when a new message arrives. Even if your Treo is asleep or you're using another application Chatter handles all it's connectivity and data exchange in the background without interfering with your use of the Treo as a PDA.

    However, all this functionality comes at an unavoidable cost: Chatter talks a lot on your data connection. This is problem for three reasons - one: if Sprint starts to charge us, or if Chatter is ported to the 180/270 the cost of usage might become significant. Marc believes that, based on his testing and his usage, Chatter alone should not bump you over 10MB/mo, and I think that's true. But the more serious problem (two: ) is that when the data connection is active (not just on, but busy) you can't receive a phone call. This is Sprint's choice not to override data calls by voice calls or it is possibly unavoidable in an 1xRTT environment. Since starting to test Chatter I've found that many more calls than usual go straight to voicemail. There is a third problem associated with this, but it's not a very surprising one: the battery life decreases since there's a lot more data signaling than usual. As a result, I find that I have to charge my Treo sometimes more than once a day, though rarely. This, and possibly the two previous points, may be obvious to most Treo owners, but I thought I should point them out in case someone didn't consider it so.

    I have no idea how Marc implemented his background running application - I was under the impression Palms couldn't run much in the background. But somehow he did. I think that this may however cause problems for some third party apps. One of the other testers is running some 30 applications on his Treo, and he's no longer seeing any crashes, but there's never a way to guarantee that an application will not conflict with another, especially one as complex as Chatter. Early adaptors should please keep this in mind, and expect some crashes due to third party apps in the beginning. I say this to try and keep people's expectations realistic, but that said, Scott has done an exceptional job of writing some very tight code.

    Some people, I believe, will not be well served by Chatter. Those people should consider using Verichat and another mail client. I believe people who see their phone as their primary means of communication and can not possibly risk missing any phone calls should consider this. Also, people with poor vision may have a lot of difficulty with the small fonts used in Chatter.

    I mention these criticisms to give people on this board perhaps a better idea of what using Chatter will be like. But I want to be clear that I, personally love this little application. Chatter is one of two applications that makes owning a Treo worth its hefty cost to me. I am constantly connected to my friends and coworkers and can now continue fruitful discussions no matter where I am. It's elegantly designed and superbly programmed.

    In conclusion, to everyone still waiting for Chatter, be patient. It's coming, it's not vaporware, it's the real thing, and it's worth the wait. When Marc releases it, be prepared for some hiccups, and please be supportive even if you encounter a hard reset. He's created a tremendously complex application that pushes the Palm platform to its limits and there are bound to be a few bumps along the way. In the end, I think, it'll be the app, that when we show it to our friends, will convince them that shelling out for a Treo is worth it.

    Conrad

    (corrected typo in 5th paragraph. should read "...should not bump you over..")
    Last edited by Conrad; 02/26/2003 at 01:11 AM.
  2. #2  
    Well said Conrad. I am another of Marc's alpha-testers and I agree with everything Conrad has said.

    One thing I would note is that I get around missing phone calls by turning off the "background" feature in Chatter. It will still get your messages but you simply have to log into the program to retreive them, versus them popping up on your screen wherever you happen to be. So you have some stopping and starting of the program but in the meantime it doesn't use the data connection continuously. If I am not expecting any important telephone calls then I simply leave the background running.

    The battery drain is not really a problem for me as I am never too far away from my hotsync/charge cable. But I would have to concur, it does use more battery power if left running in full-feature mode. It would all depend on how you configure the options as they are yours to set up as you wish.

    Overall it is a wonderful program and I love the seamless integration between the various IM programs. By looking at one contact I can see what services that person has running and how best to reach them.

    And best of all is, of course, Marc. He stays by your side every step of the way and helps you through each and every difficulty with patience and humor.

    Can't wait to hear everybody else's comments once this is released in Beta (which will be soon I believe).

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