Yahoo and Google are making significant enhancements regarding instant messaging, reminding the industry that chat is not losing its luster as a popular mode of communication and collaboration.
Yahoo on Dec. 6 unveiled a pre-beta test of its Yahoo Messenger for Vista, an instant messaging client tailored for Microsoft's newest Windows operating system. On Dec. 4, Google began letting users chat with their AIM buddies from inside Gmail.
Though incomplete, Messenger for Vista features jazzed up graphics thanks to a new interface that leverages Windows Presentation Foundation, the much ballyhooed graphics subsystem in Vista. For example, similar to a Web browser, a new built-in skin chooser lets users change the color of their IM windows.
The software boasts some flexibility improvements over previous Yahoo Messenger versions, letting users organize their chat sessions into tabs, or drag and drop a tab out of the interface to create a new window.
Favorite contacts may be dragged into the Windows Sidebar gadget, and users may play with the size of their contacts display windows and arrange contact lists into multiple columns by resizing the window. Users may also find contacts quickly with the contact search bar by typing in a few letters of the contact's name or ID.
Users can send files of up to 2GB to friends, and communicate with users of Windows Live Messenger.
Click here to read more about instant messaging not being so instantaneous.
The preview comes with a disclaimer. Josh Jacobson, senior product manager for Yahoo Messenger, said in a blog post that familiar Messenger features such as voice, chat rooms, text messaging to mobile phones (SMS) and other tools are not in this version.
Jacobson, who encouraged users to download and test the application, said his team will be working on many of these features, as well as 64-bit Vista support, for future releases. Users running Yahoo Messenger 8.1 or 9.0 on a Vista-based PC can continue to use those applications because Messenger for Vista will be installed to a different directory.
Yahoo is banking on Yahoo Messenger for Vista to grow adoption. Forrester Research expects Vista computers will be in 12 million homes by the end of the year, but that number will skyrocket to 73 million homes by 2011, thanks in part to features that users can't get anywhere else, such as the graphics and search tools.
Though originally targeted for consumers, instant messaging systems have become a major tool in enterprises, enabling remote workers to more easily communicate with their supervisors and subordinates.
Instant messaging tools are expected to be significant spokes in unified communications wheels, which collaboration software makers such as Microsoft, IBM, Cisco Systems and Google continue to refine.
Read more here about Microsoft's unified communications suite.
To that end, Google is adding AOL's instant messenger application to its core Gmail Web mail application.
To chat with their AIM buddies from Gmail, users can click on the upside down triangle next to "set status here" in Gmail chat and select "Sign into AIM" from the drop down menu. Users can then enter their AIM log-in information to access their AIM contacts among their Gmail contacts.
The integration comes nearly two years after Google integrated its Talk application into Gmail to enable real-time chat. However, Google doesn't have anywhere near the traction with Talk as AOL does with AIM, so allowing people to access AIM from inside the popular Gmail service makes sense.
Google said in a statement the AIM integration is "just one of the first new features we're able to launch using Gmail's new code structure" and users can expect more interesting utilities and integrations in Gmail as Google seeks to make its Web mail more of a unified communications suite.
Check out eWEEK.com's Messaging & Collaboration Center for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.