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Bring the Buddy List window back to High Sierra’s Messages

With the release of High Sierra, Apple removed the last vestiges of support for AOL's AIM protocol in Messages: You can no longer login to an AIM account. Yes, this is ancient tech. But it had one feature that a small group of my friends, family and coworkers relied on: The Buddy List window, as seen at right.

The buddy list was a great way to know if someone was available to chat or not—unlike Messages, which simply assumes that it's OK to text someone anytime. You could also customize the away message, to let someone know you're on the phone or you'll be back in 10 minutes or whatever.

As someone who works all day at my desk, the buddy list was a nice way to let friends and coworkers know when it's OK to talk and when I was busy. Also, I could keep these chats exclusive to my Mac, and not have them appear on all my devices, which was a nice benefit (no messages received when I didn't want to receive them).

Alas, High Sierra took that all away…or did it? It did not, as it turns out—the above screenshot was actually taken in High Sierra. The solution? Jabber, another ancient (but open source, unlike AIM; history) messaging protocol.

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Fix Messages’ broken bundled AppleScripts

While playing around with Messages this morning, I noticed that it ships with a feature that, if used, throws an error. Steps to reproduce:

  1. Open Messages' preferences.

  2. Set the Applescript handler pop-up to any of the listed scripts:

  3. Close preferences, and try to send a message to anyone.

  4. Revel in the brokenness.

I especially like the execution error: No error message…it's that rare non-error that tosses up an error dialog!

In any event, I think it's shameful that Apple ships the app with a feature—plainly obvious in prefs—that breaks when used. Yes, I know AppleScript is probably dying, but that doesn't excuse shipping the app with a clearly-broken feature; if it doesn't work, just remove it. Apparently this has been an issue since Yosemite's release in October of 2014!

With all that said, fixing this is incredibly easy—it took me about 30 seconds of "work" to find and fix the problem. If you'd like to use the bundled AppleScripts in Messages—either as is, or in some modified form—here's what you need to do

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Automatically prevent Messages’ URL Previews

I spend a lot of time in Messages in macOS, and one of its newer features is something called link previews, as seen at the right side of this text block.

While these previews can occasionally be useful, most of the time, they're just annoying: I'm talking with people I know, and we trust the links we send each other, so the preview is superfluous. Plus it makes it nearly impossible to rickroll anyone. But what's really annoying is that they make it impossible to send messages like this:

Oh, have you seen [paste copied URL]

Try that, and the URL becomes a preview, and the question mark vanishes. It really interrupts conversational flow. You can prevent this by either writing text on both sides of the pasted URL, or surrounding the URL with angle brackets:

Oh, have you seen <[paste copied URL]>?

So there's the quick tip: To prevent link previews, surround your pasted links with either text on both sides, or more simply, angle brackets.

A cleaner solution: Use a dot at the front and end of the URL. Messages will make the dots vanish (if the URL is on its own line, otherwise it leaves the leading dot), and yet not preview the message. Thanks to reader Christopher for this tip—using it, URLs pasted on their own line are just clean URLs, no previews, no brackets. I updated my macro, changing the brackets to dots in the relevant steps. I haven't edited the version you see here, though.

But because I often forget to do that, I wanted it to be automatic. Thanks to Keyboard Maestro, I was able to make that happen: When I paste a link in Messages—using the system's standard ⌘V shortcut—it's enclosed in angle brackets. If I paste anything other than a URL, it's pasted as is. If I do want a preview, I can use the actual Paste menu item instead to get a link with preview.

This solution is perfect for my needs, as I always use ⌘V to paste, and I so rarely want to send a link preview that it's OK that it requires a trip to the menu. (If it ever does annoy me, I'll just remap Paste in Messages to ⌃⌘V or somesuch.

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Why I still use the admittedly-awful Messages

A while back, David Chartier tweeted this:

David really doesn't like Messages (for many valid reasons), and has often tweeted and written about other, better messaging platforms, including his current best-of-breed example, Facebook's Messenger.

And you know what? In general, I agree with David: Messages sucks. It's got latency issues, messages sometimes vanish, shared URLs are ugly, search is troublesome, it lacks many features found in other apps, etc. Yet still, it's my messaging app of choice, and will remain my messaging app of choice, probably forever. Why?

First of all, it's bundled with every Mac and iOS device sold, which means that most of the people in my social group already have it and use it. I don't have to send a link to someone and explain how to install the app, set up an account, find my name/phone number, add me to their group of friends, and initiate a conversation.

Does that make Messages good? No, just because an app is bundled doesn't mean it's excellent. (See previous generations of Internet Explorer on Windows, for instance.) But it does make it pervasive, and in a messaging app, that's what I want.

But even beyond that—even if Messages were so abysmal it lost 50% of the messages I sent and often force rebooted my devices and remotely spilled my milk—I would probably continue to use it. Why? Because Apple isn't in the business of making money off of who I talk to, what I talk to them about, or what devices I use to do that talking. Apple wants to sell devices, not data about how people are using Apple's devices.

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