Acknowledging the enormous popularity of instant messaging, Yahoo this week released an enhanced version of its free Yahoo Pager program, now dubbed Yahoo Messenger. On top of staples such as text-based instant messaging and chat, Messenger piles voice chat and conferencing, news and several types of alerts.
Despite all the new features, existing Yahoo Pager customers will probably feel comfortable upgrading to Messenger. When Yahoo announced Pager almost two years ago, it was simply a text-based messaging tool. Since then, Pager has evolved into a suite of tools. That has made Pager a somewhat misleading name, a Yahoo spokesperson says. The new Messenger moniker is intended to convey the richness of the application's feature set.
Setting up Messenger is simple. The 1.2MB client downloads relatively quickly and installs flawlessly. If you don't already have a Yahoo identity, you'll have to set one up. But with close to 50 million users, Yahoo clearly has done this before, and the account-creation process is as streamlined as possible.
In terms of usability, I was impressed with Messenger's clean user interface, particularly compared with ICQ, my usual instant-messaging client. Messenger's raison d'etre -- messaging -- is apparent from its few icons: for sending messages, adding friends to your contact list, changing your profile, and searching for new contacts. Your online status appears in black-and-white -- I'm Available, Be Right Back, Busy -- and changing your status is child's play.
I kept getting disconnected during my text chats, however, and had to reconnect to Yahoo several times. I'm sure this was just a network problem that will resolve itself with enough fiddling. But be aware before you throw yourself into it that Messenger is not a foolproof product.
Nor does Messenger seem to come with an ICQ staple: file transfer. For geographically dispersed business users in particular, file transfer capabilities can be a real lifesaver -- they're infinitely better than e-mail attachments.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to try Messenger's voice features -- you need to have a microphone set up to do that.
Where Messenger really gets interesting is in its close integration with the My Yahoo portal. Messenger gives you one-button access to Yahoo's most popular features: mail, calendar, stocks, sports scores, and news, all with alarms. Dig a little deeper under the Y menu and you'll also find links to other Yahoo services, such as chat rooms, games, personal ads and classifieds.
Of course, for Messenger to be truly useful, your contacts must use it too. If you're an existing Pager user, give it a shot -- the new features might come in handy. It's also worth a try if you're not now using any instant-messaging suite -- it's easy to learn, and you might get something out of it.
But if you're already entrenched with another instant-messaging tool, Messenger doesn't offer any significant benefit over the path of least resistance -- at least, not for me.