When I first installed Windows 7, it somehow felt incomplete without MSN Messenger waiting for me in the start menu. In fact, the first thing I did was download it as part of the Windows Live Essentials package from the Microsoft. If you’re not aware of it, Windows Live Essentials is a collection of applications including the ever popular Windows Live Messenger, Microsoft’s instant messaging application. Also included in the package are applications such as Live Mail, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker and Writer – all of which I’ve been running on Windows 7. I’ll review the package in several articles, starting with Messenger.
Compared to the Windows Messenger you can find within install of Windows XP, Windows Live Messenger is quite an advancement, having gone through many changes (and names) over the years. When you log in to your Windows Live account, you’re presented with a list of all your contacts, just like in previous versions, with a few visual refinements.
You can arrange your contacts in to various groups, and have a selection of ‘Favorites’ appear at the top of your list. You can see whether or not your contacts are online by a small square shown to the left of either their email address or display name, which is coloured green, red or clear. The first time I saw this, my immediate reaction was “holy crap, they copied iChat”, which uses red, amber and green circles to display the status of your contacts…
You’ll find that Live Messenger is still ad-supported, with an ad at the bottom of your main contacts screen, although this didn’t bother me too much as it’s discretely placed at the bottom of the window. A nice visual touch is the colour of the display picture square on your conversation window, which changes with the status of whoever you’re speaking to. If they’re online, you’ll see a green outline; if they’re busy you’ll see a red outline and if they’re away, you’ll see an amber outline.
Just like previous versions of messenger, you can change the theme of your window, or “change your scene” as Microsoft likes to say. To do this in Live Messenger, you can roll the cursor over the top right corner of your screen and click to select a new scene.
As well as the visual improvements that come with Live Messenger, if you’re using Windows 7, you’ll see added functionality via the new taskbar. If you hover over the icon you’ll see all open windows and conversations, and if there are any conversations that need your attention they’ll glow orange. In addition to this of course, you’ll also be able to take advantage of the various Aero features in Windows 7.
Testing on XP, Vista and 7, it seems to be a very stable application and a welcome upgrade over previous versions of MSN that I’ve used over the years, with all of your contacts displayed in an easy to see way and the traffic light colour scheme for your contacts’ status so you can see at a glance the status of everyone in your contacts list.
Overall, Windows Live Messenger is a great improvement and I continue to use it to stay in contact with everyone!