Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the instant messenger market right now is that Google hasn’t made any attempt to make a half reasonable competitor but no matter because Microsoft and Yahoo continue to make strides.
The former is first out the gates having just released the final version of its Windows Live Messenger after a long period of beta testing. Build 8.0.0787.00 brings a whole host of new features to the popular client including integrated VoIP functionality designed to compete with Skype. Microsoft has employed Verizon’s ‘Web Calling’ technology in this instance and calls can be made for free from PC to PC but naturally enough incur costs when dialling out to a landline or mobile phone number. Credit can be bought in $5, $10 or $15 lumps.
Other than this headliner Windows Live Messenger also adds improved video calling and ‘Sharing Folders’ which I discussed in detail here. Furthermore contact lists have been increased to 600 (which is a real relief if you’re Brazilian… trust me on that one), time stamps are finally available, the skin can be customised and contacts may be given nicknames such a ‘I've Already Got One’ (Riyad), ‘I Unblocked Myself AGAIN!’ (Spode) and ‘The Baby Maker of Luuuv’ (Benny). Lastly messages can be sent to offline contacts that will be received the next time they come online which is just what Yahoo Messenger has been doing for years…
Speaking of which, this last feature is about the only progressive thing Yahoo Messenger has done in the last few years (apart from being able to assign your online status to contacts on an individual basis) but that all looks set to change. A new beta version called ‘Yahoo! Messenger with Voice’ is now available for download and, as the clumsy name reveals, adds VoIP support with the typical free PC to PC calls and low rates for conversations to fixed and mobile lines.
‘Plugs-ins’ are also a major new feature. These are basically mini apps that can be added into the basic client to expand its functionality and are extremely Widget-esque. The technology is likely to become open source so anyone can design one and the programme shifts with Amazon, eBay and Yahoo’s own contact shareable Calendar plug-ins as default.
Lastly the company is desperately trying to catch up the ground it lost by not competing in the MySpace/MSN Spaces arena. ‘Yahoo 360’ is its own attempt to rectify this and users can invite both buddies from their contact lists and friends via email to join in with all the sociable picture sharing/bog posting. The client itself still looks ugly though, if you want my honest opinion.
Both these new messengers will likely force others to upgrade their own offerings so what this space and surely but surely it can’t be long before the aforementioned Google makes its proper entrance into the ring…