Microsoft MSN Messenger
Microsoft's free MSN Messenger hits the sweet spot. This colorful instant messaging application is simple to use and easy on the eyes, and its many features generally work as advertised. If you already have a Hotmail account, you can use your e-mail address and regular password instead of creating a new ID, once you've installed MSN Messenger.
After I got rid of the unnecessary MSN Today welcome screen, the IM app worked very efficiently. MSN uses clearly labeled icons for voice chats, video conferencing, file transfers, and so on. As I traded instant messages with my editor, I enjoyed the soothing white space in the IM window and the ease with which I could move from one task (sending a file) to another (checking my e-mail). Out of the corner of my eye, however, I saw the ever-present ad squatting at the bottom of the contacts window.
If you get tired of keyboard text, you can click the pen icon and use your mouse or stylus to write a few words or create a sketch. If you like emoticons or mini-animations (called Winks), you can insert them via the pull-down menus conveniently located in the IM window. And for added personality, you can dress up your messaging identity by appending a greeting and/or displaying a picture: something from Microsoft's small (and free) collection--rubber ducky, anyone?--or an image of your own.
Donning headsets, my editor and I yakked away using MSN Messenger's voice chat. Call quality was superb--the best experience of any IM application we've recently tested. Our voices sounded crystal clear, without any detectable echo or choppiness. In fact, we completely forgot that we were talking over the Internet.
Our video conferencing tests were equally impressive, with MSN Messenger again earning top marks. Though the images looked a little pallid at times, overall quality was excellent. The video was smooth and our lip movements matched up with our voices surprisingly well.
At first blush, with its fun aspect and long list of games, MSN Messenger might seem better suited to interactions with family and friends than to communication with your coworkers, boss, or apps. But MSN Messenger includes a few business-oriented applications. The file transfer feature, for instance, works very well. But when we tried to tap into the program's whiteboarding and application sharing--features offered for XP systems only--we had less luck. Despite repeated tweaking, we couldn't get either one to work. Microsoft says that the whiteboarding and application-sharing features don't use the MSN Messenger protocol; the company suspects that our troubles were due to our working behind Network Address Translation (NAT) routers/firewalls.
One last quibble: To the left of the main contacts Window, MSN displays a vertical column of ten icons. Some of them I could understand immediately--links showing "eBay" and "Xbox," for example--but others had me scratching my head. A winking smiley face turned out to be a link to communicate with MSN, while a screen with a wiggly red line linked to CNBC on MSN Money. Beats me.
If you're looking for an IM application that can handle both recreational and work needs, MSN Messenger gives you slick tools to do the job.
Aoife M. McEvoy
Microsoft MSN Messenger
- Easy to use; pleasant interface
- Great voice and video quality
- Some icons are enigmatic