The Bottom Line
- Integration with other Microsoft products
- Webcam functionality
- Ease of use
- Slightly buggy
- Need a Windows Live ID account to use
- Freely downloadable instant messaging program
- Part of the Windows Live Essentials suite
- Not included by default in Windows 7, Microsoft's newest operating system
Guide Review - Windows Live Messenger
I recently showed you how to download and install Windows Live Essentials, Microsoft's freely-available suite of productivity programs. My next step is to review each of the programs in Live Essentials, starting this week with the instant messenger program, Windows Live Messenger.
Live Messenger sports a colorful, logical interface that's easy to read and very customizable. For instance, hovering your mouse over the title area (which shows your name, availability and image or other identifying icon) brings up a little paintbrush in the top right-hand corner; click the brush to change the top scene and colors used in the scene.
The messaging part is pretty standard fare, no different than any other IM programs out there. The video chat using the webcam is quite easy to set up and use; just a few mouse clicks when the program tells you to. In addition to chatting via video, you can play a number of (free) games with your contacts. My son and I, after a chat, played a few games of "3D Tic Tac Toe", which has three separate boards. The texting, video and voice worked flawlessly for both of us, and took only a minute to set up from not ever having used it before. That's user-friendliness.
Where Live Messenger really shines is in its integration with other Microsoft programs, especially Hotmail, the email service. For instance, Hotmail users will notice a mail icon with a number in the lower-right corner of the title section. That informs you of how many unread emails are waiting for you. In addition, when you get a new email through Hotmail, a pop-up will inform you that you got a new message, and who the sender is. That's a nice time-saver. There are also quick links to other Microsoft services including MSN (the Microsoft Network), Xbox Live for gamers and MSN Careers for job-hunters.
Although it's mostly good, Live Messenger has its drawbacks as well. One is a bug that kept telling me I had two new "Invitations". Invitations are messages from other Windows Live users, and they can be people you know, or not. For most of the week, Live Messenger kept telling me I had two new messages. But I'd deleted those messages early in the week; that's what makes me sure it was a bug.
Those "invitations" are another weakness. The first two I got were spam messages from women who "just wanted to chat" with me. Riiiight. Those were deleted instantly. A similar annoyance is the amount of ads you're forced to see; they're everywhere, including at the bottom of the main IM screen and even when firing up the webcam to do video (that's sort of expected, though, given that you find such intrusions with other IM programs and other free software.)
Those failings aside, Windows Live Messenger worked great for me, and was fun to use. I'll be using it more frequently in the future.