I left off with WebTV and MSN Messenger. Eventually, we bought a PC and, of course, I used MSN on there. I was more familiar with it, although I had used AIM, and comfortable as well. Other IM services – such as AIM and ICQ – had a very square, institutional look and, as such, made my conversations feel a bit more impersonal and cold, somehow. Though I’m sure some of that was in my head, the look and feel of an IM program became the atmosphere of my chats and I preferred the softer, rounder, more intimate feel of MSN. Also, it didn’t hurt that I relied on several Hotmail e-mail addresses and MSN Messenger was integrated with Hotmail; admittedly, this integration was (and still is) lacking, but the e-mail notifications were great.
Then, something happened. As usual, Microsoft was still developing its IM program, trying to make it the best there was – the end all and be all of IM software. Its main competition at the time was AIM as ICQ was slowly dying out and only the “hardcore” users still referred to the “Q.”
Soon, my favourite version of MSN would be released: 6.0. Whereas MSN Messenger 5.0 was rather bare bones – there was no advertising on the main window and tabs were few while the chat window itself was bare bones, with only a few menus and the only extra buttons were to change the font, display an emoticon or block a contact – 6.0 had evolved.
6.0 offered a sleeker design which moved even further from the institutional look which AIM was still sporting. You could customize colours schemes, minimize the top menu and the block option was moved within the main chat window, which actually was an improvement as the placement before made it easily to accidentally click.
It also offered a lot of new services which, while not essential, really improved upon the chatting experience. However, if you were just looking for a chat client, MSN Messenger now became too much and I suspect that some people were very unhappy with it. I also remember that the main menus were rearranged slightly, proving to be slightly more difficult to navigate.
As for me, I enjoyed playing games with friends when there was a lull in the conversation and, occasionally, would display my beautiful self on webcam for people like Rian (though audio conversations never caught on with me). (; As a fan of avatars and icons across the web, the display picture feature was awesome, in my opinion, though MSN claimed you could use animated images for both the new display picture and custom emoticon features, which you couldn’t.
Users could now also add backgrounds – images of their own or MSN provided images – and share these with a friend which wasn’t necessary, but helped to personalize the chat experience and, perhaps, to tell friends apart.
MSN also started logging chat transcripts at some point, and falsely advertised this feature with 6.0, though it was not yet available – at least with 6.0. I know I found a need for this some time before MSN finally offered it and that is when I started using Messenger+.
Many of the options which were located within the chat window with the previous version of MSN (inviting a friend, sending a file etc), were rearranged within the chat window, now becoming bulky buttons beneath the top menu, although I believe it was possible to turn off this toolbar (but probably not as easy as it had been in the previous version).
Meanwhile, the main messenger window hadn’t changed much – there were a few more options to access some features directly from that window and, unfortunately, there were now also ads at the bottom – though they were relatively unobtrusive.
Expectedly, all these new features made for a much larger download than the previous version – over a 50% size increase! Also, expected, was that MSN took up more resources and could be a nuisance for some.
Overall, I was very happy with version 6. It offered a little extra, without going overboard.
Then something went terribly, horribly wrong. Microsoft introduced MSN Messenger 7 – Beta which was available to the entire public of the internet but MSN still insisted it was beta which, as we all know, is code for “don’t blame us if it fucks up.” And, fuck up, it did.
I installed it, a bit hesitantly, only to find that as soon as I started the program and opened a chat window, it made my computer freeze. It didn’t matter if I had no other programs open, or 20, it was the same result time after time. If I got lucky and it didn’t freeze, the whole system lagged painfully. I quickly reverted to 6.0, planning to stay there forever.
MSN Messenger 7 also included a couple new features which I found complicated and convoluted. Contact cards were like mini profiles which could be viewed from the main window or chat window. Also new, were MSN Spaces, meant to rival Myspace, I guess. both of these moved away from the profile, making it more difficult to find and less effective without offering improvement.
The main window became much less than advertisement-free. There were several tabs added, most of which highlighted MSN websites and partners, which were mostly space-wasters. Users also had the option to add a personal message – which displayed after their username – and display the song they’re currently listening to, both features which MSN plus had previously offered which made it less necessary as an add-on.
Other new features which I was not fond of were the nudge and the winks. The nudge made your window “shake” when a chatting partner nudged you, an increasingly annoying occurrence when you found yourself busy or attempting to ignore someone who is online. Winks were sound animations which you could send to users. If you wanted, you could also purchase packs, though I’m not sure what those are. Both of these features imitated features Yahoo!IM already had in place, and I already despised.
Meanwhile, Microsoft used MSN to push its other services, such as Internet Explorer and MSN search. Installing MSN 7 often resulted in reset settings in IE and MSN search was incorporated into the chat window.
Even for those who loved these so-called improvements, MSN 7 was even more of a resource hog than previous versions. It probably didn’t help that display pictures of your buddies now appear in the pop ups alerts as well. It seems I’m not the only one who loathes MSN 7.
I managed to avoid upgrading for a while and floated happily along the internet without needing to deal with 7.5 which Microsoft deemed important enough to be a release of its own; however, the only new features were voice clips (record 15 second messages and send them to your friends), dynamic (aka animated) backgrounds and.. more bloat (partially due to showing display pictures of you and your friends everywhere).
Then, came the unthinkable.
To be continued…