SAN FRANCISCO (04/04/2000) - There's still no gold standard when it comes to free chat clients. But Yahoo Inc.'s new Messenger, released this week, should win over anyone who uses Yahoo's mail, chat, or finance services.
Version 3.0 keeps the look and feel of last year's model, and like other Yahoo services, its calling card is its integration with existing offerings. If you already have a user name and password with Yahoo Mail or My Yahoo, for instance, you're ready to start chatting once you download and install Messenger (a little over 1MB).
Yahoo has vastly improved voice chat. The previous version worked more like a walkie-talkie, requiring you to click a button while speaking. Also, only one person could speak at a time. Now the feature is full-duplex, and you can click a box to chat "hands-free."
Unfortunately the feature isn't backward compatible, and when I tried to start a voice chat with a friend, we both received messages that he would have to upgrade. After that brief interruption, I signed on again. Chat quality, as with the last version, is quite good, especially if you wear headphones to avoid an echo.
Links to Other Features
Yahoo has made other cosmetic changes, including new tabs for jumping to its auctions and online calendar. As with previous versions, the latest offers file transfer as well as stock-quote notices that alert you to significant changes in price, so you can be ready when the market takes a tumble or hits the roof.
Another noticeable change: When mail arrived in the previous version, an icon displayed in the system tray to alert you. Messenger still displays the icon, but now it also opens a small window above the system tray. When you click the notification, your default browser launches and takes you to your mail account.
That seems unnecessary since the system tray icon will take you there if you double-click it. The notice window also appears when a friend comes online.
Thankfully, you can turn off the display boxes.
While Messenger 3.0 probably won't win over those who prefer AOL's friendly Instant Messenger or ICQ's feature-filled client, it's a solid all-around offering and a good first messaging client if you're in the market.