I’ve been testing out WLM 9.0 Milestone 3, for the past few days, and I have my fair share of likes and dislikes so far.
First of all, here are new changes and features that I love:
- Simpler main client – A lot of stuff that used to be on the main client, has been dropped off for a more simpler interface. They pulled down the toolbar, the Live Search box, and tabs are hidden by default. Some elements from the toolbar got hidden elsewhere, while Hotmail now sits not so far from the status message. They did add a What’s New feed (updates of what your friends are doing) and the Favorites category, which you can easily disable or delete. And the advertisement at the bottom is still generally the same size. The team did a great job of cleaning up the client interface.
- New status icons – Remember the little green messenger icon that represented your status? Well now it’s replaced with a much better system; colored dots or “chiclets”. Green = Available; Red = Busy; Orange = Away, White = Offline or Appear Offline. Each colored dot represents one of those statuses, and I’m glad they reduced the number down and making it more legible to see from a glance. You can also have the option to show the display picture for online contacts, instead of just the status icon.
- Downplaying the tabs – (The tabs on the main client) At the moment, they’re not enabled by default (which is a GOOD thing) and when they are enabled, they’re near the bottom of the client, above the graphic ad. Instead of opening directly in the Messenger client, they open in a small mini-window and you can do what you want there and close it (but it’s still basically an interactive ad or a way to get you to use more services). Still some of the same crud though. I couldn’t find an option to pick certain tabs, so I’m disabling them all.
- Favorites category – You could make your own categories if you want, but WLM comes with the Favorites category so you can place your top contacts at the very top. By default, they show up in their display pictures. BTW, Groups are a specialized list of people that you guys can communicate all at once together, while categories is just simply a list of people of similar qualities.
- What’s New – It’s a feed of what your contacts have been doing. If you’re friend are active on Messenger or Spaces often, chances are you’ll see they’ve been doing. Stuff like recent comments, recent pictures added, new blogs, changed display pictures, status messages, etc. It’s really useful, if you have a lot of WLM contacts that use Messenger, Spaces, and SkyDrive often enough. If you’re the type of person that really doesn’t care to see what all your contacts are doing, then you can disable the What’s New feed in Options.
- Hover effect – Just a really minor feature, but it’s a nice simple feature nonetheless; if you hover over a contact in the client, a dark grayish menu appears where you could choose to Send an Instant Message, E-mail, Call Mobile, View contact card, and View Profile. So simple, and pretty clean and useful compared to the bazillion options shown by right-clicking.
- Less clutter in chat windows – You have the ability to close up the display picture pane AND the toolbar menu (the bar with the activities). This gives less visual clutter, allowing you to focus entirely on the conversation.
- Smoother extending of bar between text input and conversation window – Now it seems much smoother to make your text input box bigger, or your conversation window bigger with the improved divider. It just flows better than before.
- Better photo sharing – This feature hasn’t been enabled yet, since this part of the beta, but based on screenshots, it’s suppose to be much better. I wouldn’t say superb, but much better.
- Any photo can be a background scene! – Any photo can be a background scene in Messenger. Just drag-n’-drop an image to the top portion of the Messenger client and there it is! Your new background scene! Takes customization to a new level. When your friends are chatting with you, they’ll see your background scene, and you’ll see their background scene.
- Customizable sound clips – WLM comes with a neat bunch of sound clips you could use, and you can change the sounds for individual contacts, yourself, alerts, nudges, incoming/outcoming voice and video calls, and new instant/e-mail messages. You can even choose a sound file from your computer and get a short 5 second clip of it and add to your choices. Though the tool could have been more intuitive at first. I didn’t realize you could drag the music note background behind the slider, to capture a different part of the sound file. Also, if you bought music with DRM, you can’t make a sound clip with those.
Of course, there’s some things I felt that should have been added or weren’t fixed:
- Lack of tabs – Is it really that hard to put this in? People have long wanted this feature since the old MSN Messenger days. I’m certain a lot of Messenger users sometimes have a lot of conversation windows open, and having an easier way (than the dreaded Taskbar) to handle all conversations in one window would be great. Sort of like how IE8 manages to handle each tab as its own separate process. I’m sure the UI gurus on the team can figure some way to make tabs work.
- Lack of consistency with the other Windows Live apps – Which may actually be a good thing. But the inconsistency among the Windows Live apps (especially WLMM), seems bizarre. I’m glad though that WLM has kept it’s visual icons, instead of making everything boring text. Also, backgrounds in Messenger are currently called scenes, while elsewhere it’s called themes. Heck, even Zune just simply calls it a background! We need a bit more consistency here.
- Outdated emoticon library – We need a new fresh emoticon library to come with WLM! I find the current ones rather dull and not as expressive as the ones in Yahoo! Messenger, which are more visually pleasing, kinda cute, and perform a little movement. Someone should really think of updating Messenger’s current library of emoticons.
- Lack of way to customize the text input toolbar – I’m talking about the toolbar that you use to help create messages to send to your buddy. The lack of customization is really not cool. I could do without the winks, the Voice Clip, and maybe even the conversation window background buttons. Instead, I would like to see text formatting buttons on the toolbar instead of in a separate ugly dialog box (buttons like font size, font type, Bold, Italics, etc.). Those should be put forward on the toolbar, instead of an ugly cumbersome dialog box. Maybe the team can create a better centralized store for getting add-ons for customizing the toolbar and Messenger.
- Option to record certain (or any)chats – Microsoft could go above and beyond by having a way to record chat conversations, especially certain individual ones. I use a 3rd party one and it works fine, but the more that Microsoft brings to the table, the better the product.
- Need for Messenger games with 3+ people – Whenever I’m chatting with a group of 3, I really wish we could play games together. Unfortunately, WLM doesn’t have any games built-in that do 3+ players. Only 2. If the team could work with MSN Games, and the Xbox team to get stuff like card games, popular board games, among other neat games onto Messenger, then maybe Live Anywhere could become a reality. Wouldn’t that be nice?
- Lack of visual graphics effects for webcam chats – Come on, Microsoft. Apple’s iChat has the neatest array of graphical visual effects to use in webcam chats, while WLM is still just getting improvements to better viewing and audio quality. Graphical visual effects are an extra, but a lot of people really want that feature built-in. Microsoft has always been known to be poor in the visual graphics department (well until Zune that is), and maybe there should be some guys working on making Messenger (and maybe Windows) more visually graphical in a superb way. Yahoo! even did this already with WPF (a Microsoft technology) on their Yahoo! Messenger for Vista.
- A direct way to get rid of advertising – I don’t want to have to find a 3rd party to do it. Isn’t there a way for a Windows Live user to skip ads in Messenger? Maybe for those who use Hotmail Plus they could also skip ads in Messenger? The ads aren’t annoying to me, but I’d like a direct option from Microsoft for a way to have Messenger without the ads.
- Spell check – Practically every application has this feature nowadays. Though of course a lot of people don’t mind spelling errors during chat, some people do. It’d just be nifty to have spell check included. Or if Windows could have a system-wide spell checker, that’d be even better.
- No web-based Messenger yet – The next version of Hotmail (which will come in beta sometime soon) is suppose to include WLM functionality. Though from some screenshots, I’d say going to Meebo would be a better choice. I just really hope that most of the important things (like emoticons, text formatting tools, etc.) are still there.
- Lack of mobile version – Even the current one is already bear bones in comparison. How about giving Windows Mobile users a super Windows Live Messenger? AIM for Windows Mobile is excellent in comparison with the outdated Messenger for Mobile. Why can’t Microsoft get their act together with the mobile division?
- Voicemail capability – Yahoo! Messenger has had this feature for quite awhile. Also, now that Windows Live Video Messages exists, why not just integrate that directly into WLM? That would save me an extra step, though it’d be useful to see it available on another computer. Seeing offline text messages is nice, but now is the time to offer voice and video messages.
- VOIP capability – Reason why people love Skype. Maybe if Microsoft could charge a nice cheap fee, I’m sure a lot of people would go for it.
Anything else I should add to my list? Comment me.
Here’s some snapshots to get a general feel of what the new Messenger’s like, for those who haven’t tried it yet: