Microsoft today released MSN Messenger version 7.0 to the eagerly-awaiting public. As Messenger is an application that I use quite a lot (at least when I decide to boot into Windows), I felt I should try out this new version. So I installed it.
I shall start off by saying that this review is going to be less of a review and more of a rant. Needless to say my impression of MSN Messenger 7 is not a good one. I shall complain about a number of things I dislike about the new version, with screenshots no less.
However, I would not like to be thought of as unfairly antagonistic towards Microsoft products (hehe), so I shall list some of the advantages that Messenger 7 offers over Messenger 6.
- The “toast” popups you get when a contact comes online or initiates a conversation now contain their display picture. This makes it somewhat easier to identify at a glance who has just come online or who has just messaged you.
- You have the option of including a “personal message” along with your username. This should in theory provide a rather more pleasant alternative to everyone changing their contact name to suit their mood.
Yeah, that’s about it.
Sadly, what it brings with this is possibly the most obscene amount of feature bloat and commercialised clutter that I have seen in any piece of software to date, including the famously-bloated ICQ. Let’s take a look at some of Messenger 7’s new features:
- Nudges: at the press of a button, you can make your conversation partner’s window fly around the screen like a monkey with too much coffee, along with a stupid noise. You know the mildly annoying “browser shake” script? Think that, but add sound and make it controlled by someone else. Rather annoying.
- Winks: basically the ability to send a Flash animation to a friend and have it play in their chat window. No practical application at all.
- Shared searching: the option to go through search results collaboratively. I cannot think of a single reason why I would want to do this.
- Handwritten messages: allows you to draw an image using your mouse or (if you happen to be one of the very few who own one) a graphics tablet, and send it to a friend. Possibly a very slightly useful feature for those with graphics tablets, but for the rest of us it certainly doesn’t offer any increase in speed, and seems to have very little by way of practical application.
So, not looking particularly good on the feature front. The really annoying thing about this, however, is that it’s very difficult (verging on the impossible) to get rid of. For example, the big “Send” button has now been split into a combination “Send”/”Search” button. I’m no HCI expert, but this just seems to be inviting accidental clicking, all for the sake of a feature few people are likely to use. And there seems to be no way to turn it off.
This, combined with the new icons for all the new features you don’t really want, gives the user an astoundingly cluttered interface by default. Example:
The default conversation window which greeted me with MSN 7 (with Messenger Plus installed, hence the two icons on the far left):
Of course, much of this can be removed: the display picture can be hidden, the icons along the top can be hidden, and the little switcher for handwritten versus typed messages doesn’t really get in the way. So this is annoying at first, but can be removed.
Not so the hideous amounts of advertising. There is still, of course, the obligatory advert at the bottom of the contact list, accompanied by advertisements to buy extra emoticons in the emoticon menu:
the advertisements to buy extra content at the bottom of every conversation window (a hyperlink, of course, just begging to be clicked accidentally):
and the addition of links to MSN content right underneath my status indicator:
There. My spleen is vented. In summary:
- Very few new features that are genuinely useful.
- Lots of feature bloat.
- Obtrusive adverts which just beg for accidental clicks.
No doubt hacked builds will turn up in a few days with the majority of the advertising removed, but I still doubt I will “upgrade”. It seems not to be worth it in the slightest.