Microsoft has finally released MSN Messenger 7 from beta testing. A lot of people knew about and were using the beta version; however, this release hasn't been advertised at all. So, what's the new MSN Messenger actually like compared to both the beta and version 6.2? Here's my take on it.
I upgraded to MSN 7 beta when it was released and it was an upgrade! They'd tweaked all the visuals, from the overall look to subtle icon changes, even useful mouseover effects. However, they also included absolutely absurd new features.
- If someone "nudges" you on MSN, your chat window buzzes (vibrates and blurs) for a few seconds.
- A short flash animation is played over the top of your chat window.
Both of these "features" are extremely annoying. If you don't have the up-to-date Flash version, you're even asked to upgrade! Thankfully (though this shouldn't be needed), these can be turned off. I recommend this is the first thing you do with MSN Messenger 7. Whoever dreamt up these ideas and thought they would be great features in the new MSN, which is essentially a communication tool, should be fired -- immediately.
The chat window: you now have the option to increase the size of your display picture, so it's the same size others. There is the option to change both display pictures' sizes. Oddly though, there is only "small" and "medium"... seems like they're missing an option here. That's the only "good" feature that has been introduced into this part of the application.
Another new feature that has been introduced in Messenger 7 chat window is "handwriting". The tooltip information which is provided when you hover over the icon says
Write and send messages in your handwriting. If anyone has tried to use their mouse to "write" or "draw" letters, let alone words, then you'll find it extremely difficult. This feature is completely pointless and simply means an increase of icons on the chat window.
The chat window typing area is completely cluttered with icons and extra writing. Below are screenshots from versions 6.2 and the new 7 release.
- MSN Messenger 6.2 Chat Window Screenshot
- MSN Messenger 7 Chat Window Screenshot
- At the top you have the option to change your font style, colour etc... Surely, people aren't going to change this that often, certainly not per chat conversation. This could be removed as users are likely to choose a font style/colour and stick to it.
- Then you have the "smilies" or emoticons. This is where you can choose from emoticons available from within the program. However, most of the time I end up typing them myself as I'm already using the keyboard, and it's quicker than using the mouse to select. OK, I don't remember the keyboard inputs for obscure emoticons, but how many people really use them or know what they mean? Also, if you hit "(" it displays the list of emoticons to select from.
- Winks, this brings up a menu similar to the emoticons. Select the one you want and it plays (unless they've turned it off -- recommended).
- Backgrounds allow you to skin the background of the chat window. When changing the background for the first time the application asks whether you want to share your selected background with the other user. This is incredibly selfish IMO and shouldn't be selected. I don't think users are likely to change this while chatting and therefore it should be a setting from the main options. Backgrounds can also be changed by dragging an image onto the chat window. This can be annoying if you're trying to send an image to the person, as you now have to target the text window specifically.
- Packs are pre-designed packages which are installed then automatically applied. These change the chat window background, your display pictures as well as adding to the emoticon list. Seems good, except the packs available are all commercial adverts for products...
- This icon is the "nudge" facility. Please don't use it. It's extremely annoying, and if you followed my first recommendations, no one will see it. Enough said on that issue.
Then there is the send button which has been split to make room for a "search" button. This feature returns the top three results from MSN search and sends them to the other participants. I'm not sure on the use of this features, yet. However, it could become useful if doing some research, maybe.
Below the send/search icon is the new option to switch between "handwriting" and "text". As I stated before, there is no use for the handwriting feature and it ends up meaning two more icons in this area.
Finally, there is the text advert at the bottom of the window. The one in the screenshot is really useful, aside from the fact I'm using the latest MSN Messenger!
Microsoft has spruced up the main application window quite a lot. Moving from version 6.2 to the beta of MSN Messenger 7 was a nice change. However, I had to move back to 6.2 after problems in sending messages. I was shocked how plain and boring the older version looked. It definitely looked old and in need of an upgrade. Finally, I moved back to the final version 7 and noticed they'd changed a few visuals since the beta.
The most obvious difference is that the icons next to the contacts are smaller versions of their display picture and not the default MSN Messenger icon (which is displayed when no display picture is available). Although I thought this was a nice touch initially, it soon became an annoyance. It is more difficult to see when a contact is busy or away, as there is no common icon. However, the away/busy symbols are displayed over the display picture, but are difficult to distinguish.
Another useful inclusion in the new version is the "Type a personal message" space, just below your display name. A lot of people use their MSN display name to put in a funny message. However, this clutters up the contact area and is repeated every line when they chat. This feature keeps that message in the contacts area, but it's in italics and separated by a dash from the display name. It is also displayed in the chat window, but only once, at the top of the window. I hope this will encourage people to use a short nickname as their display name, with any message they want in the "personal message" space.
Just below your name and display picture, in the main window, are some Microsoft internet-related services. First is the mail checker, which was included in older versions of MSN Messenger. New services are the "My Space" and a link straight to MSN Today (which is also, by default, a popup when MSN messenger is first installed). Personally I do not use either Hotmail (any more) or My Space and I don't read MSN Today.
Other annoyances that are included by default are other MSN services which are linked to during the installation. These are, by default, checked to be installed but I'd advise to uncheck them. The first time MSN Messenger 7 is run, MSN Today is displayed in a popup. This can also be turned off, however, it shouldn't be set to display by default.
This integration of all these services is something to be aware of. It seems Microsoft is trying to smother competition by linking to their own products, much like how they integrate Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer with their Windows operating system. It would be nice to have these turned off by default, but that's just not how companies work. They're simply protecting and promoting their interests.
As you might be aware, by default MSN Messenger isn't the most user-targeted application ever, with all of its "by default" annoyances. However, I would advise any one, using any program, never to use the applications defaults. Always look through the options to see what can be turned off as well as on.
I use a program called MsgPlus as an addon for MSN Messenger. The main reason I use this addon is to change how I view people's display names in the contact window. I choose what name is displayed, followed by their chosen name. And now it's followed by their "personal message". This means my contacts are a little more organised and browsable. MsgPlus has a lot of features and I highly recommend it as an addition to MSN Messenger. Unfortunately the latest version of MsgPlus, the only version which works with the new messenger, doesn't disable the adverts at the bottom of MSN Messenger 7 main application window. This was removed by the developer of the addon.
The bottom line? I'll still keep using MSN Messenger in the future. Some people call it bloated software and believe it is turning too commercial. But for myself, personally, I find it easy to use and it gets the job done -- communication.