Messages is really, really, really iChat

If you’ve installed the beta of the new Messages application, you know that it’s a rebranded iChat with one new feature: messaging via Apple’s iMessage protocol. What you may not realize is how shallow the rebranding is. It isn’t even skin deep.

I tried to use LaunchBar this morning to start up a Messages session. I hit my LB hotkey, Control-Space, and typed “mess,” figuring that Messages would be one of the top hits and that by choosing it from the list, I would teach LaunchBar to select it first. But Messages wasn’t near the top of the list; it wasn’t in the list at all.

I assumed that LaunchBar hadn’t indexed the Applications folder since I installed Messages (even though I have it set up to index every time the contents of the folder changes), so I told it to reindex and tried to launch Messages via “mess” again. Still not in the hit list.

So then I hit the LB hot key and typed “chat.” iChat appeared at the top of the list, which is funny, because there’s no iChat in my Applications folder anymore. When I hit the Return key to launch iChat, Messages started up.

LaunchBar’s index for Applications shows iChat, but not Messages.

LaunchBar index for Applications

The Finder shows Messages, but not iChat.

Messages in iChat's spot

But you’ll notice that Messages is where iChat used to be in the Finder. I have had the Applications folder sorted by name and Messages sits between iCal and iDVD. Doing a Get Info on Messages reveals this:

Messages info

Note that Messages’ Name & Extension is

Update 2/18/12
I thought I’d done a Clean Up By Name just before taking the Finder window screenshot, but I was wrong. If you do a Clean Up By Name after installing Messages, it shows up in the Ms, just as you’d expect.

Thanks to David Dixon for pointing out my error.

It gets better. Open Terminal and list all the files and folders in /Applications that start with “Me.”

$ ls -d /Applications/Me*
ls: /Applications/Me*: No such file or directory

What about files and folders that start with “iC”?

$ ls -d /Applications/iC*
/Applications/  /Applications/

So there really isn’t a It’s still but with some magic causing the Finder to show it as Messages. It may be that the magic is in the Bundle name entry in the Info.plist file in /Applications/


One last thing: All your old AIM and other instant message settings were in Messages because it reads your iChat settings’ files in the Preferences folder.

$ ls -d ~/Library/Preferences/*iChat*

Why did Apple choose to do it this way? My guess is that Apple wanted Messages to inherit all your old iChat settings so you wouldn’t have to redo everything. Also, because Messages is in beta, Apple wanted you to have an easy way to uninstall Messages and go back to iChat as if you never left. I’m not sure this shallow rebranding was the best way to achieve these goals, but it does seem minimally disruptive. Unfortunately, one thing it does disrupt, LaunchBar’s indexing of applications, happens to be something I find useful. To get around the problem, I made an alias of Messages, made sure it was really named Messages, and tried to get LaunchBar to index it—that didn’t work, either. I’m told that Alfred will launch Messages under either the Messages or the iChat name.

Helping me via Twitter in this fun, if unproductive, exercise in Mac spelunking were h1ro, Than Tibbetts, Ryan Irelan, David G, Matt Foster, David Dixon, Clark Goble, and Matthew McVickar.

Update 2/20/12
There are some LaunchBar workarounds if you don’t want to keep typing “chat” to launch Messages.

Daniel Doron pointed out on Twitter that you can rename LaunchBar’s index entries by simply double-clicking and typing in a new name.

Rename LaunchBar index entry

I haven’t done that, but I have followed Doug’s advice in the comments and assigned an abbreviation by bringing up iChat in the LaunchBar selector and typing ⌥⌘A to set a new abbreviation.

Assign LaunchBar abbreviation

18 Responses to “Messages is really, really, really iChat”

  1. Alex Chan says:

    The branding seems a little deeper if you’re using the beta on Mountain Lion, but trivially so. It shows up in the correct alphabetical order in Finder, and Info.plist calls it “”. Alfred only finds it for Messages, not iChat. However, all the preference files still refer to iChat.

    The other sign I noticed was the name of the chat logs folder. It’s ~/Documents/iChats. While not a direct link (they could reasonably be called iChats if the original app wasn’t called that), I suspect it is a holdover from the old app. (What was this folder called in the original?)

  2. Carl says:

    I assume this is being done using the localization tools. My system is set to Japanese, so shows up as “メッセージ” (=Messages), just like how shows up as 辞書. In general, any folder in OS X can be given a display name that’s different from its name on the disk if you use the right combination of dot-files.

  3. Dr. Drang says:

    Alex, see the update about alphabetical ordering. I had my timing wrong.

    Carl, localization does seem like the tool Apple would use. Thanks for pointing that out.

  4. Doug says:

    I’m sure you probably figured this out already, but the easiest way to fix this in LaunchBar is to assign an abbreviation to iChat in Launchbar (Opt-Cmd-A). I did that and made “mess” the abbreviation to iChat. Now it shows up if I type “ichat” or if I type “mess.”

  5. Rhys says:

    Interesting, Alfred does index it as ‘Messages’ but the caption still shows the location to be ‘/Application/’. Screenshot for reference

  6. Dr. Drang says:

    Actually, Doug, I’d forgotten how to force an abbreviation onto LaunchBar. Thanks for saving me the time to search for it.

  7. Daniel says:

    Carl got the answer, in Alfred it behaves just like any other localized application, accessible by both the real name and the localized one, while always showing the actual path below. For me that means that “Messages” doesn’t work in Alfred but “iChat” and “Meddelanden” (Swedish)

    Doesn’t LaunchBar index localized application, file and folder names? A must for me.

  8. Zev Eisenberg says:

    I asked @launchbar about this on twitter, and they say they’re working on it:

  9. PatatoOor says:

    In Mountain Lion when you look for “Mess”, Finder finds

  10. Joshua says:

    You performed a search with a 3rd party app. If you wanted to be accurate you would’ve used Spotlight. I’m on 10.7.3 and searched “mess” with spotlight. The appropriate app came Messages up. Spotlight search for iChat brought up the archived folders. Also: 1. It’s in beta. 2. “Messages does everything iChat does. And with iMessages, it does even more.” <— It’s quite obvious it’s iChat rebranded…aka a beta. 3. “Download Messages Beta and get a taste of what’s coming in OS X Mountain Lion.” says Apple. That said get a “taste” means this is still beta. 4. It’s in beta (did I say that?) meaning its not completely feature filled, and Apple may still take away some existing features.

  11. Dr. Drang says:

    Jesus, Joshua, you sure are touchy. And a careless reader.

  12. Than says:

    On my 10.7.3, Messages is no where to be found: &

    Old index maybe? Sure, but that’s besides the point.


    And it was a little jarring to reflexively hit CMD-1 and see the old, familiar iChat buddies list pop up.

  13. NotTellinYou says:

    Really? This is a problem, why? This is news, why? It’s pretty clear looking at the menus it’s an improved rebranded iChat. But I’m feeling so what? iChat has been great and Apple’s expanding its capabilities while changing the name to better reflect that. Big deal. FileMaker went from FileMaker 4 to FileMaker Pro 1.0 but could just as easily been FileMaker 5! On the iOS platform, the one with more users, the app is called Messages…so why not leverage that on OS X? I really think its funny you’re all about how you’ve discovered some fast one or slight of hand.

  14. NotTellinYou says:

    BTW! Tip for ya! In Mountain Lion, iCal becomes Calendar, but it’s still iCal under the covers. Shhhhh! Wink…wink…nudge…nudge!

  15. elasticthreads says:

    You can run the following Applescript to launch Messages/iChat:

    do shell script “/Applications/”

    of courses you can use the string between quotes as just a bash/shell script also.

    I don’t use LaunchBar, but I assume you could save either script as “Messages.scpt” and teach LaunchBar to use that when you type “mess…”

    should temporarily fix the glitch

  16. Dr. Drang says:

    NotTellinYou should get together with Joshua to form a book club. They can discuss Mark Twain’s support of slavery in Huckleberry Finn.

  17. Carl says:

    Haha, sorry the comments on this post are so bad Dr. D. I wonder what brought the trolls out… Is any mild implicit criticism of Apple beyond the pale?

    For the record, Spotlight will search by real filename or display name, so it brings up Messages for me when I type “ichat” or “メッセージ but not “Messages.”

    The Swedish name for Messages sounds the coolest. Meddelanden!

  18. Zev Eisenberg says:

    LaunchBar has released a nightly build that now shows Messages by its new name. or enable Nightly builds in LaunchBar auto-update preferences.