Windows Live Messenger 8.5 Beta Review

The beta for the refreshed (as opposed to new) messenger is out. You can grab it here, or you can read below and make an informed choice. First off the download is preety fat at 18mb and among others it promises

Improved performance (yay). This is hard to believe and harder to measure but still..

Greater compatibility with Yahoo! . Previously you could add your contacts and send each other emoticons that were mutual for the two services.

Security via OneCare. Microsoft has been taking this seriously lately, bordering a psychosis with security. In Messenger 8 (aka Live) you couldn't send certain files to your contacts unless you had an antivirus that could scan them. I suggest Avast which is both free and efficient.


So you go on about the installation and you hit this:

After that in Vista you get a UAC, and then wait while files are copied and then sure enough you're done.

This summarizes the new way in which Windows Live apps wave 2 are deployed. They are also grouped in your start menu and supposedly updates are automatically pushed to you. It is clear that Microsoft is aiming at making desktop tools for the Web 2.0 world. Applications that are ocassionaly disconnected from the cloud and click in the underused MSN legacy.

It sure enough fit's my style. I prefer dragging images from my desktop to a contact than clicking "Find file.." and looking for something I already know is there.

You can see that the changes are primarily aesthetic in nature. Nothing radical, just moving the look and feel more towards Vista. For those who may ask, in order to show you contacts this way in the current messenger you can go to the up-down arrows button and select 'Show details".

The messaging window has also been refreshed. You can see that the other-party typing notification has been moved between the typing area and the history, this is both good cause it saves you eye movement and quite insignificant too.

A very welcome change is the ability to quickly change your current image. Microsoft provides some animated ones in flash, which are mostly ads (like Xmen and Fantastic 4) and a history of your chosen ones.

Take care not to flame me on this one. It can be found on some builds of the live messenger and is missing on others. It's quite hard to discern which ones really.

A glaring omission is the inability of the ink panel to recognize shapes, which is sad sad sad. To try out this feature check out this plugin for the Live Writer. Finally it doesn't fix a long time nuisanse of mine, I always believed that the space you are given or set manually for text and ink should be different and that the app should remember it. Just remember where I put the slider damnit !

The file transfer dialog is creepier now. This is good (tm). I recently had a linux using friend bitch about how insecure Windows is. The proof was that his next office colleauge caught a virus via the Messenger.

Well it turned out that the received a link, clicked it and then when prompted with a web page dialog looking like a Windows logon, she typed in her credentials. Then she downloaded a piece of software and ran it.

It's true ! And she's a Computer Science MSc !

The folder sharing facility is under a lockdown too now. What's different is that if you antivirus can't handle this type of monitoring Microsoft will offer a completely free version of Onecare for this purpose exactly. I think it used to be a trial that you got.

The good side is that OneCare AV is extremely light. The bad is that apparently it isn't very efficient at catching viruses anyway. I guess they could still focus on the attack du jour and be good at it.

Overall I really like where the live apps are going. While each one separately seems largely incosequential, ensemble they make a good package. It is nice to have applications that click on the Internet or consume online services, but provide the familiar feeling and quick response of a desktop app.

What I don't like about Live though is the odour of Windows 95 it gives off. Everything seems tied in with other Live products and certainly a complete installer will appear someday. Even the points of interoperability (exproting contacts to Google) are carefully studied. They are there so they can use the interoperability buzzword, but they only exist in point where MS is sure they have nothing to loose.

In other words, is there a way to migrate to Yahoo! Messenger easily ? No there isn't, and that's propably cause a super flashy version of it is coming our way. One built for Windows Presentation Foundation all the way. And boy does it look good.

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