How do all these Instant Messaging software products work? My guess is that it works just like e-mail or kind of like pinging. Anyone care to add more detail on how this works?
Your question is so vague it is difficult to answer. they all work the same in the sense that they work by pushing electrons down a wire. At a bit higher level, they both use packets. So, at a very basic level they work using the same things. But at a higer level they are different. email is stored for you to pick up at the server whereas IM is not (unless it is, that is).
I do not know if that answers anything you were asking. Can you clarify your question?
IM programs are very diferent from either email or pinging, except in that they involve computers. There are two networking interactions that occur in IM programs. One is client-server, and the other is peer-to-peer.
When you start your program, there is a well-known (well, well-known to the program) server and port number that the program connects to. When it connects, it both informs the server that the user is now online, and requests the online status of a certain set of users. The server checks the list, and sends back info about that set, and also sends the fact that the user is online to any others who have requested that info.
When you attempt to talk to a given user, I believe, you set up an individual connection between your IM program and the other user’s program. That way, the server is not swamped by the communications overhead from all the messages sent back and forth at any one time.
Pinging, on the other hand, is strictly a peer-to-peer program that uses a special kind of packet to generate a return packet to the originating program. And email is completely a distributed server-client architecture spanning the globe more completely than the Internet, though most folks these days have never heard of such arcane things as BITNET or bang paths.
Sorry about the ambiguity, I guess I was wondering more about the network aspects of instant messaging.