Remember when an instant messaging client was simply a way to
chat with your IM contacts? If Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger
2011 is any indication, those days are long gone. This app not only
lets you chat with your Windows Live contacts, it also offers an
almost-comprehensive portal into your social networks.
Windows Live Messenger 2011 requires a Windows
Live ID, but you can sign up for one with any e-mail address.
Microsoft no longer requires that you sign up for a Hotmail address
or that you select a specific Windows Live nickname, which is nice.
Windows Live Messenger is also part of the free Windows Live
Once you add your Windows Live contacts (or invite your friends
and colleagues to sign up for the service), you’re ready to
chat–if chatting is all you want to do. If you want to take
advantage of the social networking features, you can opt to connect
Windows Live Messenger to your Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or MySpace
accounts. If you’re one of the millions of Twitter users, though,
be warned that the micro-blogging site is not a connection option.
It’s an odd omission, especially if Microsoft wants Live Messenger
to be considered a comprehensive portal to the most popular social
Once your accounts are connected and your Windows Live contacts
are added, your contacts appear in a list that runs down the right
side of the app window. You can view all of your contacts, or you
can sort them by source and availability. To initiate a chat, you
simply double click the name of an online contact, and you’re good
to go. The IM windows are neat and clean (other than a text ad that
runs at the very bottom of the window). I also like the option to
save conversations when you sign off, as well as the fact that you
can embed YouTube videos right into the IM windows simply by
sending a link.
I’m less enamored with the rest of the Windows Live Messenger
interface, which features the ribbon-style design that Microsoft
has integrated into its recent products. The app’s main window
displays either your social feed or MSN news; you can switch
between the two. When viewing your social feeds, you can see status
updates and photos from your social network contacts, and can post
your own. I didn’t find the interface overwhelming, exactly, but it
was a bit crowded; you’re presented with status updates from one
person right next to photos from another on top of news items from
a third contact. A little bit of streamlining would go a long way,
especially when you consider that you’re also dealing with the ads
that Microsoft features to pay the bills–often of the animated
variety. Luckily, you can opt for a compact view of the app, which
shows you only your contact list.
If you use Windows Live Messenger as your primary vehicle for
IM–and you’re a Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn junkie–this app
will appeal to you. But if you won’t consider a social network
portal worth your time without access to Twitter, this app is not
for you. And IM purists–especially those who want to chat with
users of another IM service–will be better served with an app like
which lets you chat with users of multiple services, including AIM,
Facebook, ICQ, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo
Messenger, among others.
Note: This link takes you to the vendor’s site,
where you can download the latest version of the software.