Chat (Windows 2000/NT)

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This article delves into the historical and technical aspects of the ‘Chat’ feature in Windows 2000/NT, providing insights into its role in early network communications. Additionally, we explore the broader definition of ‘chat’ in the context of networking, underscoring its evolution and current relevance.


  1. What was Chat in Windows 2000/NT?
  2. How It Works
  3. Historical Context and Evolution of Chat
  4. Generic Definition of Chat in Networking
  5. Technical Aspects and Functionality
  6. Chat: Then and Now
  7. References

1. What was Chat (in computer networking)?

Chat was an accessory in Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 2000 (winchat.exe) for communicating with text in real-time with other users on the network. Chat was an interactive tool that displays each character as it receives it. The Chat tool supported text-based communication over a Windows network only and is not intended as a tool for Internet Relay Chat (IRC).

Chat (Windows NT)
Chat (Windows NT)

The generic term «chat» describes any system that supports text-based communication over a network for logged-in users. Such a system typically includes a display that shows text as another user types it.

2. How it works

Chat consists of a window with two panes, one for the message you type and one for messages you receive. A user dials another user by specifying the name of the other user’s computer. A chat window then opens on the receiver’s computer. Once the receiver answers, the text that one user types in the left or upper pane immediately appears in the right or lower pane on the other user’s chat window.

The Windows NT and Windows 2000 Chat utility require that the Network Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) service and related services be running on the participating computers. In Windows NT, use the Services applet in the Control Panel, and in Windows 2000, use the Services item in Computer Management to set the startup configuration of this service.

3. Historical Context and Evolution of Chat

The inception of Chat in Windows 2000/NT coincided with a period of significant growth in computer networking and the internet. This era marked a transition from more traditional forms of electronic communication, like email, to more dynamic, real-time methods.

Chat applications in this era were simplistic compared to modern standards but were groundbreaking in offering immediate, network-based communication. This function in Windows 2000/NT represented Microsoft’s commitment to integrating networking capabilities directly into the operating system, reflecting the increasing importance of network-based communication in both professional and personal contexts.

4. Generic Definition of Chat in Networking

Chat, in the context of networking, refers to a method of communication that allows users to exchange messages in real-time over a computer network. This communication is typically text-based, but modern chat systems may include the ability to share multimedia content like images, videos, and links. The fundamental characteristic of chat is its immediacy, distinguishing it from other forms of digital communication like email, which is not designed for real-time interaction.

Network-based chat systems can be one-to-one, where two users communicate privately, or one-to-many, where messages are broadcast to multiple users in a chat room or channel. Chat systems are used in a variety of settings, from casual conversations among friends to formal corporate communications. They often include features like user presence indication, message history, and notifications to enhance the communication experience. The evolution of chat systems has seen them become integral to various online platforms, including social media, gaming, and professional collaboration tools.

5. Technical Aspects and Functionality

The technical aspects of Chat in Windows 2000/NT revolve around its client-server architecture. When a user initiates a chat session, the client application connects to a server within the network, which then facilitates the message exchange. This architecture was fundamental in maintaining a centralized control over the communication flow within the network and ensuring that messages were routed correctly and securely.

Key functionalities of Chat in Windows 2000/NT included:

  1. Message Exchange: The primary function was to allow real-time text message exchange between users. This was done via a simple user interface where users could type and send messages, which would appear almost instantly on the recipient’s screen.
  2. User Status Indicators: Indicators such as ‘Online’, ‘Away’, or ‘Busy’ were used to show the availability of users, aiding in understanding when a user was likely to respond.
  3. Network Integration: Being part of the Windows NT family, this chat tool was seamlessly integrated with the network’s user accounts and permissions, allowing for a secure and managed communication environment.
  4. Group Chat Functionality: Users could create group chat sessions, enabling multiple network users to communicate simultaneously. This was particularly useful for team discussions or announcements.
  5. File Transfer: While primarily focused on text, some versions allowed for the transfer of files within the chat, facilitating a basic level of collaboration.

The simplicity of this system was key to its functionality. It did not demand high processing power or significant network resources, making it accessible even on less advanced hardware common in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Despite its basic nature compared to modern standards, Chat in Windows 2000/NT laid the groundwork for more sophisticated communication tools that followed in later years.

6. Chat: Then and Now

The evolution of chat from the days of Windows NT/2000 to the present offers a fascinating insight into the advancements in networking and communication technologies. During the Windows NT/2000 era, chat was a novel feature that revolutionized internal communications within organizations. The primary focus was on text-based messages exchanged over local networks, often within the confines of a single organization or closed user group. The simplicity and immediacy of the chat feature in Windows NT/2000 made it an essential tool for quick, informal communication, supplementing more formal channels like email.

Fast forward to the present, the concept of chat has undergone a profound transformation, driven by advancements in internet technologies and a shift towards more global, interconnected communication platforms. Modern chat systems are no longer limited to text; they incorporate a wide array of multimedia functionalities, including voice and video calls, file sharing, and even integration with other productivity tools. Platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and WhatsApp demonstrate the evolution from a simple text-based system to complex, multifaceted communication ecosystems.

Key differences between then and now include:

  1. Platform Integration: Modern chat systems are part of larger platforms integrating various communication and collaboration tools, unlike the standalone nature of early chat systems.
  2. Global Connectivity: While early chat systems were confined to local or organizational networks, current systems connect users globally, transcending geographical and network boundaries.
  3. Security and Encryption: Modern chat platforms place a significant emphasis on security, often featuring end-to-end encryption, which was not a primary concern in the early days of network chat.
  4. User Interface and Experience: Today’s chat interfaces are more user-friendly, with features like emojis, custom reactions, and seamless multimedia sharing, offering a more engaging user experience.
  5. Mobile Accessibility: The proliferation of smartphones has made chat systems ubiquitous and accessible, a stark contrast to the desktop-bound systems of the Windows NT/2000 era.

The transition from the basic chat functionality of Windows NT/2000 to today’s sophisticated platforms reflects broader technological advancements and changing user expectations in the digital age.

7. References

  1. Computer Networking: A Top-Down Approach” by James Kurose and Keith Ross.
  2. Networking Essentials” by Jeffrey S. Beasley and Piyasat Nilkaew.
  3. RFC 1459 – Internet Relay Chat Protocol.
  4. RFC 2810 – Internet Relay Chat: Architecture.
  5. RFC 2811 – Internet Relay Chat: Channel Management.
  6. “The Road Ahead” by Bill Gates (discusses early visions of networked communication).
  7. “Data and Computer Communications” by William Stallings.
  8. Network Security Essentials” by William Stallings (covers aspects of security in network communication).