We all use MSN Messenger, or at least 155 million of us do. It may not be the best instant messenger out there, but it is certainly the most prolific. Last week version seven of this ubiquitous client was made available to the public. So what does it bring to the table?
Improved video and voice communication are the main focuses of the new release, while customisation also features prominently. Of course, if you are one of the many who have been beta testing MSN Messenger 7 since last year then you are going to have a fair idea of what these elements entail.
“Free PC to PC video conversation” (to use the marketing terminology) connects users with synchronised video and audio and offers full screen viewing. Developed in conjunction with Logitech, it promises faster and sharper video with crisper audio (for users of this feature in MSN Messenger 6.2, you'll know that is not too difficult). In my limited testing so far, it does seem pretty good, though it is not going to give Skype a run for its money just yet.
The other big feature is the integration of MSN Spaces – an online scrapbook service that allows you to share photos, music lists, post blogs, etc. 30MB of storage space is offered as standard (the beta version was limited to 10MB), but given the increases in online storage recently, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is raised before too long.
Want to get in touch with friends not currently online? Soon you’ll be able to send SMS text messages from MSN Messenger to mobile phones. This feature won’t be available until the spring, but it should prove a boon to those of you being crucified by the high costs of texting on Pay-As-You-Go mobile phone contracts.
Finally, no MS product would be complete without a mandatory refresh of the visuals. The first thing you'll notice that is different about MSN Messenger 7 is that it is more compact than previous versions, despite squeezing in more information. The fonts are smaller, you can see users' pictures alongside their online status (helpful for distinguishing contacts with the same name), there are more Avatars and MSN Today now feels semi-useful as it shows a snapshot of your inbox and alerts you to local news and weather should you ask it to. While the ability to write freehand (using a digital pen or mouse) directly into the text window is kinda funky.
Naturally, there are also more colour schemes, wallpapers and the like than ever before. Finally, the “Buzz” (alert) feature that has proved popular in other messaging clients like Yahoo makes its debut on MSN Messenger 7 in the form of a “Nudge”.
All in all, MSN Messenger looks to have taken a major step forward with version seven and about time too. There are still a few features we would have liked to have seen added that didn’t make it, such as the ability to appear online or offline to individual contacts, which stops that annoying aunt from messaging you without cutting off the rest of your friends (Yes "Block" is an option - thanks Nige - but it is a little crude). Still, overall, it is a promising evolutionary step.
You can grab MSN Messenger 7 here and, based on early evidence, I would advise you do so.