Yahoo is working on an next-generation version of its Messenger product, designed specifically for the upcoming Windows Vista operating system.
The Yahoo team has used the Windows Presentation Foundation framework to build dynamic features on top of the core communications features in Yahoo Messenger.
“We plan to bring together the best of Yahoo! Messengers easy-to-use communications suite and Windows Vistas dynamic platform to provide an engaging experience with rich animations, increased personalization and instant access to friends,” said Jeff Bonforte, Yahoos senior director for Real Time Communications.
The company, headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., will use this weeks CES conference in Las Vegas to preview the product and announce its roadmap.
The current plan is to have the public beta available in the second quarter of 2007, with final release expected by the end of the year, Matthew Skyrm, the director of product management for Yahoo Messenger, told eWEEK.
Yahoo also plans to launch a Yahoo Messenger Web log in the near future, where users will be able to share their feedback with the company, he said.
Given that most new computers will start shipping with Vista at the end of January, and that it is expected to become the dominant operating system over time, the Yahoo Messenger team started planning for this well in advance.
The team had started looking at Vista and the new technologies it brings, and talking to Microsoft about a year ago. “We quickly realized that todays Yahoo Messenger, which is optimized for Windows XP, would not feel completely at home in the Windows Vista environment,” he said.
The team also decided that “a new coat of paint wasnt really going to cut it if we want to wow users, and so we decided to work closely with Microsoft and build Yahoo Messenger for Vista,” Skyrm said.
The new version will have a totally new cinematic user interface and visual design, and is optimized around the new and unique experience that the Vista operating system brings, he said, noting that this supported the teams philosophy of providing products that “live and breathe in the operating systems that our users choose.”
Yahoo had made a similar move with a version of its messenger for the latest Mac OS X operating system, releasing a beta for this last year.
The company believed its users were best served by offering the right product for the right person and the right environment rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Skyrm said.
Asked if the new Messenger experience would be the same across all the versions of Vista, Skyrm said it was still making decisions about what graphic features, particularly with Windows presentation Foundation, would be turned on and off, particularly for Vista Basic.
“It will be enough for the user to enjoy it seamlessly without their computer slowing down because its a lower-end computer,” he said.
The new Yahoo Messenger for Vista would also include all of the existing fun and easy-to-use features like text, instant messaging, interoperability with Windows Live Messenger users, emoticons, avatars, voice and all the other communication features.
Microsoft Welcomes Yahoo
“These are all there to ensure compatibility across our products. Not only will we continue to offer the existing Yahoo Messenger product that is optimized for Windows XP, but we will also continue to enhance that as we want all users to have the best experience possible with our product,” he said.
For his part Brad Goldberg, the general manager for the Windows client business group at Microsoft, welcomed the move, which he said would provide “a truly engaging communications experience” with Windows Vista.
“Yahoo Messenger for Windows Vista will clearly deliver the wow moments that fulfill the promise of Microsofts new operating system,” Goldberg said, referring to the consumer release of Windows Vista and Office 2007, which will be celebrated in New York on Jan. 29 at a launch event that Microsoft firm has dubbed “The Wow Starts Now.”
Asked which features from the Vista version of Messenger would find their way into the XP version, Skyrm said that while the XP version might not have the full cinematic user interface, some of the core communication features necessary to ensure compatibility across the products would be used in both.
On the competitive front, Skyrm said this product “is all about the experience. There are a host of features that Yahoo and its competitors have in their products that are important and which are innovated on in many ways.”
“In this case our focus was to take the core communication features and make sure that we had a Vista-optimized interface and experience around them,” he said.
However, Yahoo Messenger for Vista will bring features that are optimized and only available for users of that operating system, along with a cinematic user interface that provides animation and visual design.
The team, using the Windows Presentation Foundation, have done a lot of work on the traditional contact list, so that each tile can now be resized.
Instant previews of how things will look if changed are also available throughout the application, and are an integral part of the experience. “The goal is to make this more of a dashboard versus just a contact list,” Skyrm said.
New features and innovations include a custom gadget that takes advantage of the Windows Sidebar feature in the operating system, and which is on by default.
This allows users to keep close tabs on their friends and family by dragging and dropping that icon into the sidebar. That icon then becomes part of the sidebar and is permanently displayed, Skyrm said.
The product also takes advantage of high resolution displays with a scalable vector-based user interface so that “as 200 PPI (pixels per inch) displays become more popular we will be right there and ready to support them, he said.
“It also brings the ability to interact with interest groups in themed environments, some of which are automatically created,” Skyrm said. “This is very proprietary to Yahoo because of the Yahoo Network, the largest Internet suite of properties in the world that we can tap into and which no one else can.”
In addition, Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger friends can be added to the contact list and users will be able to see when they are online. Photos can also be accessed from the desktop or Flickr and shared.