Internet Nostalgia: Microsoft Comic Chat

Earlier in the life of the Internet the main form of on-line real-time communication with others was done through chat rooms based on the IRC protocol. IRC clients such as mIRC and KVIrc were hugely popular. Although communication methods have changed with the rise of messenger services (such as ICQ, AIM, Yahoo, MSN Messenger, Skype etc), and then social media, IRC is still an active communication platform and it has spawned newer communication platforms such as VOIP services like TeamSpeak and Ventrillo.

In the late 90’s my first experience with IRC was with a Microsoft application that came bundled with Windows 98 SE – Microsoft Comic Chat. Comic Chat (or MS Chat) was an IRC client from Microsoft which added in some additional features – a visual comic book style mode which rendered the chat log as a paneled comic strip, with each member in the chat room being allocated a random avatar from a dozen or so different characters.

Microsoft-Chat-2.5

In the screenshot above, you can see the comic chat display of an IRC chat room. I’ve been randomly allocated a female avatar (changeable through the application options). On the right side along with the list of users there is an emotion control. By moving the selector to one of the 8 faces it is possible to change the expression used when posting messages to the chat room. The expressions show in other MS Chat clients – but users using other IRC clients like mIRC or KVIrc may see weird commands in their chat log.

If the emotion selector is left in the centre, the emotion displayed is either random or based on some very basic sentiment analysis (I have never attempted to verify this theory, but I do remember noticing it did look like the program was trying to guess the expression probably through words and punctuation used). It certainly seemed to do a reasonable match up with people’s chat.

So I was amazed to find – having found the original install files for MS Chat and installing it, that it works fine on Windows 10. The only issues I have experienced with the application was a single complaint that it cannot find the legacy Windows 9x registry hive when the program starts up. Also – because of the age, the default IRC networks that were programmed into the installer – only two of them work (or did at time of testing). But this can be overcome by adding your own custom IRC connection through the connection manager and using an active network.

Here’s a screenshot of me joining a real room:

GroupChat

In this screenshot above, I have joined #worldchat on IRCNet. Interestingly a user spotted the chat room sign-in message contained ‘Microsoft Comic Chat’ and called me out on it. 🙂

It was an underappreciated application of its time. I certainly enjoyed using it, but I was guilt-tripped into switching to mIRC as a teen as the members of the chat rooms I used to hang out in complained about the action codes my client spammed in the room when the client sent codes for the emotes my client was setting for the avatar.

Microsoft Comic Chat is still available to download online if you look hard enough – or if you have an old copy of Windows 98 or 98 SE you should find it bundled in with the Communication tools.  Besides an initial Registry warning the application runs with no issues (so far) on Windows 10.

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