Sunday, April 24, 2005

MSN Messenger 7


Alright, I'll admit there's no love lost between me and msn messenger on an average day. Version 6, which is what I'd stuck with, was slow, crappy, annoying to use and painful. At work, I get by with the stripped version, windows messenger without too much pain. But, since I'm an internet person, invaribly I have stupid people who just don't get it and annoy me at the wrong times.

Version 6 had massive failings. Version 7 has fixed a lot of them. The ideas weren't necessarily born all at Microsoft either: I notice MSN now goes with the GAIM style "display a picture" for a user for instance.

But we're ahead of ourselves.

Getting It

Difficulty: Hard.
I am a web veteran. I use firefox, I make websites, I know how to work them. I followed the steps on auto pilot, skimming ahead and not realizing I'd come to a complete stop on the website.
The problem? Some clever monkey has javascript to trigger the download automagically and show you a list of post installation directions.
Some other clever monkey has put two doctype declarations in, and two html opening tags. Haphazard work: how hard is it to run a html validator over your pages? Impossible, it seems. Well, so long as it works in Internet Explorer, we don't care.
Annoyingly, I had to back track many steps and click on the "download and install later". It took a good 5 minutes of puzzling to work out where that was hidden. Surely, you want your users to be able to get your free product...


Difficulty: Easy.
Hello stupid! You are now installing MSN. Click next to install MSN.
Thank you, installer. The logic of this is about on par with H2G2's talking doors. Thank you for opening me. You are now opening me. Duh. Click through boilerplate. No major hassles, just slight redundancy.
Also, it pushes the install MSN product family angle: a business objective probably, so it's company centred not user centred. Tsk. I don't want your sleazy MSN search.


Difficulty: Easy. I don't like it. It tells me I've got problems, and it can't connect because I'm running through a HTTP proxy. Eh? Rubbish. Your more primitive cousin worked moments ago!
I looked about and found what was wrong: it had disregarded many of the old settings from MSN 6 and stole them from Internet Explorer somewhere, it'd gone to what I'd need to have if this computer was at work.
Luckily, this pushed me to look at some of the non obvious things. I disabled a bunch of them.

Someone messaged me. The message history had XML flaws, and it offered to clean that up for me. Nice! I told them to shush, and go away, because it was an annoying person.

Overall: it seems faster and cooler and sexier. There's images for users, a split between nickname and message, and all sorts.
No longer do I have to deal with idiots who change their display name to a flavour of the day, so I lose track. Hurrah.
Also, since people stick normally to fairly constant avatars, if they do change their names I still have a visual tag to associate with them. Nice!

There's a contact card feature. Useful, because I often want to find out more info without having to fire up the webbrowser. This is a polished version of what GAIM has.

Mmm. MSN Spaces. No idea. I'll come back to it soon. Non obvious what it was, but it explained well enough.

Annoyance: you can kill the toolbars, but you can't stick it to the top of your screen, because the toolbars are really just invisible, and still there.

Plus: I can see my own display info.

Annoyance: I can't edit my own phone numbers / etc details on my contact card by clicking on them.

Annoyance: Advertising is still intrusive. Why not make it less visible but in more places? Ie, adwords here would be cool.

Annoyance: Internet Explorer hasn't been my browser for years. Why is it being opened to change web settings?

Summary: tricks to take to GAIM

  • User avatars on the left hand side of the screen (ie, before nicknames) as opposed to on the right (gaim) is smarter.
  • Cropping nicknames instead of expanding the window with a scrollbar is smart.
  • Status in text on right on nickname is good, lighter color. Overlaid on avatar is better.
  • Setting a status ahead of signin is cool.
We'll see how well it does against the stress of a hangover tomorrow.
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