May 23, 2007

Share files with friends while chatting using Qnext

Author: Mayank Sharma

Two of the most popular open source instant messaging clients, Pidgin (formerly Gaim) and Kopete, can work with multiple protocols, but neither is a great option when it comes to sharing files with friends. For that, try Qnext, a multi-protocol IM client with which you can share files with not only IM buddies but also contacts in your address book.

Unlike Kopete and Pidgin, which are open source, Qnext, which is written in Java, is free to download, but proprietary and closed source. It makes money by displaying advertisements in the Qnext client and in other places, such as on the page that lists your shared files. But Qnext offers innovative methods for sharing files between users, such as making image slideshows or music playlists. To top it all off, Qnext users can also interact and share files with people who don't use the application.

Installing Qnext is a piece of cake. Just grab the compressed tarball, inflate it with bunzip2 qnextsetup.tar.bz2, untar it with tar qnextsetup.tar, change into the qnext/ directory, and launch Qnext with ./qnext. Once the application is running, it'll ask you to log in to the Qnext network. If you don't have an account, you can create one for free from within the app itself.

After logging in, you're taken to Qnext's main screen, which is divided into two panes. The pane on the left keeps track of all your connections, while the one on the right has links to some documentation.

Instant messaging

Using Qnext, you can talk to buddies who are using MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, AIM, and ICQ. If you have friends on your list in Gaim, Kopete, or any other IM client, you can easily import them into Qnext. Just click on an IM client's icon in the bottom left corner on the main window to bring up a window where you enter your username and password. Once Qnext has logged into the account, your friends will appear in the left window under the General group, in either the Online or Offline category, depending on their status.

You can right-click on the General category to add another group. To add friends under a custom group, go to File -> Add Friend or click on the Add a Friend icon. From the window that comes up, you can choose the group to add your friends to.

From the same window you can also import contacts from an email account. Qnext can import addresses from MSN's Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo! Mail, and Gmail. Specify the service, then choose to either import the complete address book or pick out addresses you like. You can also enter the name and email address of a contact that's not in your address book. All addresses show up under the Email category.

Once you have added friends, you can send them instant messages. If you've got a microphone and a webcam, you can also have audio and video conversations with them. Under Tools -> Options, in the Devices tab, click on the Detect button to add these devices to Qnext. You can also send email to the contacts you've imported from within Qnext. Replies to these messages are delivered in your email service's inbox.

Qnext doesn't do IRC by default, but it has a plugin for it that you can easily activate. Tools -> Qnext Plugins -> IRC will open the IRC window in Qnext's right pane, and open the IRC properties window. Here you can select a channel, set preferences, such as enabling emoticons and logging conversations, and click on OK to log in. The application allows you to join multiple channels on multiple servers.

Sharing files

Qnext lets you share documents, photos, and music easily with your friends. There's no limit to the size of files you can transfer using Qnext, and you don't have to upload the files to any server. Your friends pick the files from your computer directly. For pics, Qnext automatically creates thumbnails and slideshows of all or selected images. Similarly, instead of just sharing music as normal files, Qnext creates playlists and streams music in your friends' browsers, if they don't have Qnext.

Webcast Manager - click to enlarge

In Qnext parlance, all types of files are shared via a webcast. You can create webcasts by going to File -> Manage Webcasts and clicking on the Create button. This opens the "Webcast wizard," which helps you select the type of content in the webcast (files, music, or photos), and the files that you want to share. You can let your friends comment on your webcast items, and set access permissions on shared items, to enable those you choose to modify your webcast.

Once you've added a webcast, you can select an audience. Your audience can be IM friends or email contacts, or you can add new contacts directly from this window. The audience will be notified of your webcast, along with a link to browse and download the files in it. Your webcast is available only while your Qnext client is running.

While Qnext lets you add Ogg files to a playlist, it can play only MP3 files. If you want to allow your friends to simply download music (of any kind), then share it as files. When you create a webcast for sharing files, you can add files of any format and size. The music and photos webcasts save your friends the trouble of unnecessarily downloading music or images before they can be heard or viewed.

Detailed instructions for working with Qnext are in the Qnext manual. There's also a forum board to help users.


Qnext is easy to install and use for sharing files with IM buddies and email contacts. Since it allows audio and video conversations, and supports IRC, it makes a nice IM client as well. The only issue I have with Qnext is that its interface is overloaded with too many buttons.

Qnext is closed source, Java-based, and advertisement-driven, so it's not be an ideal application for everyone. But it's an interesting alternative for users who regularly share files with their IM friends.

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