capsule review


At a Glance
  • eBuddy

Though eBuddy shows promise as a Web-based instant messaging service, its current version is hamstrung by a confusing interface, an inability to connect to multiple IM services at once, and limited customization options.

The service's home page provides links to the only three IM services that it supports: AIM, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. Unlike many of its competitors, eBuddy doesn't allow you to connect to multiple services simultaneously. All of its IM services are available in two versions, however: a Classic version and a New (or, in the case of AIM, Beta) version. The Classic versions are older, HTML-based services, while the New versions are Ajax-based and are designed to approximate the experience of using a desktop client more closely, the company says.

If only it had succeeded.

I logged on to the Beta version of eBuddy's AIM client. At first, I was impressed: The log-on process was quick, and within a few seconds I had connected to my buddy list. From there, however, things went downhill. The interface was crowded and often confusing, and my buddy list appeared in a pop-up window that was overloaded with ads. While I understand the company's need to make money to support this free service, I could do without flashing graphics running across the bottom of the screen and the words "ACNE PRODUCTS" in large letters running down the side.

The buddy list itself is well organized, though its customization options are limited. My buddies were grouped into online and offline users, and a Settings button at the top of the screen let me change that. I could sort by my predetermined groups, as well.

New messages appear in this same window, which can be slightly confusing. The only way to distinguish messages from your buddy list is by a hard-to-see tab near the top of the window. Fortunately, you can undock the message window so that new messages appear in a separate area. And you can opt for audio notification of new messages to make their arrival more noticeable.

The message window lacks a typing indicator (while working with AIM, at least) and a time stamp, but it does give you some control over the appearance of text. You can change the font size and add effects such as bold, italics, or underlining. You can also add emoticons. Messages seemed to arrive quickly, without any noticeable delay.

A pull-down menu lets you set your status as online or away, but you can't create a customized away message. And though your contacts can see your status as away in their buddy lists, they won't receive an auto-reply notifying them of your status if they send you a message while you're away. When I changed my status back to "online," it took a long time (more than an hour, in one case) for my buddies to see that change.

Another oddity: When I attempted to close the window containing my buddy list, I got a message telling me that if I did so, I would be signed off of the service. But for some reason, I never got disconnected. My buddies still saw me as online, and could send me messages to me, though I never received them.

I also tested the Classic version of the AIM client on eBuddy. As the company had warned, it performed noticeably more slowly than the Ajax-based Beta version at everything from logging on to creating and sending messages. I preferred the basic look of the Classic version's interface to the Beta version's relatively busy interface. Messages automatically appear in their own window, which makes them easier to recognize.

One complaint about both the Beta and the Classic versions: Whenever I sent a message to someone on my buddy list, they received a separate spam message advertising the eBuddy service.

eBuddy says that it is currently working on an update to its service. The company expects that a beta of the new version, called Oberon, will be available in the next few months, and says that it will correct some shortcomings the current version. Specifically, it will add support for more IM services and will allow users to log on to multiple services at once. I couldn't test Oberon in time for this review, but I recommend that interested readers wait until that version is available.

Liane Cassavoy

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At a Glance
  • This service suffers from a confusing interface and its inability to let you access multiple services at once.


    • Log-on is quick


    • Can't connect to multiple services at once
    • Interface is confusing
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