Eyeball Chat 2.0

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  • Editors' rating
    5.6 OK

Pros

  • Connects to AIM, MSN, and Yahoo to send recorded video messages
  • sends real-time video to other Eyeball users
  • simple to set up.

Cons

  • Video doesn't work with AIM, MSN, or Yahoo from a firewall-equipped PC
  • doesn't support ICQ
  • no private chat rooms
  • nearly nonexistent technical support.

Anarchy reigns in instant messaging. MSN doesn't talk to AIM, AIM refuses to chat with Yahoo, and Yahoo snubs ICQ. So when we learned that Eyeball Chat 2.0 reconciles disparate buddy lists and delivers full-featured video chat, we had high hopes. With Eyeball, you can type text chat messages to all your AOL Instant Messenger, MSN/Windows Messenger and Yahoo Messenger buddies. If you have a Webcam, you can also hold video chats with other Eyeball users. But Eyeball drops the ball with this early version: its hyped-to-the-hilt video-message delivery service doesn't work with AIM, MSN or Yahoo pals if your PC is behind a firewall (and most work PCs are). For now, turn instead to Odigo or Trillian for interoperable IMs. Desperate for video chat? Try Yahoo Messenger, or Windows Messenger if you have Windows XP.

Installing Eyeball couldn't be easier: just grab and install the 3MB download, and Eyeball automatically recognises your audio and video hardware. We successfully installed Eyeball on three different PCs, each with a different mix of video and audio gear. Sadly, Eyeball doesn't work on Macs or Linux boxes yet.

Eyeball's straightforward interface clearly marks your buddies as either online or off. Several buttons for common chores (such as starting a text chat or opening a new chat room) sit on the left-hand side of the display, and icons at the bottom show whether you're logged in to AIM, MSN or Yahoo. But unlike more sophisticated clients, such as MSN Messenger or ICQ, Eyeball doesn't offer much in the way of interface extras. For example, you can't create groups to better organise your contacts, there's no way to display only your buddies who are currently online, and Eyeball gives you just three online status choices: Available, Away, and Do Not Disturb.

Naturally, to chat with your AIM, MSN, or Yahoo buddies, you need accounts with those other services. Eyeball doesn't help you here; you'll need to go to the appropriate IM service's sign-up page to create a new account (or plug in all of your different usernames). With Trillian, by contrast, you can enter your usernames during setup. Thus armed, just enter the username and password for each account into Eyeball's Settings dialog. Unfortunately, Eyeball doesn't support ICQ yet, although the company says it's working on this.

As promised, Eyeball Chat delivers interoperability. The display breaks down a list of your buddies according to the chat program they use and automatically connects with AIM, MSN and Yahoo when you log on, so you can type text chats with pals signed on to those other services and using other programs. A nice bonus: Eyeball preserves Yahoo's and MSN's email notification features, so you still get alerts whenever new messages land in your Yahoo Mail or Hotmail in-box.

You can't conduct real-time, streaming video chat with AIM, MSN or Yahoo buddies, but Eyeball's video message feature is supposed to provide this service. As long as you're Webcam-equipped, you can record up to 60 seconds of video and audio, then send the clip immediately or save it and send later. Your AIM, MSN and Yahoo buddies will receive a link that they'll have to click to watch the video (the first time your buddies access this feature, Eyeball automatically downloads and installs a small player plug-in into their browser).

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Eyeball suffers from one fatal flaw: if you're using Eyeball from a firewall-equipped PC, video doesn't work (unless you're sending to another Eyeball user). If your buddies have firewalls installed, they'll still get the messages, but they'll receive 'Could not locate remote host'errors instead of a video clips. Temporarily turning off the firewall on our sending PCs didn't do the trick; we had to uninstall it. Very disappointing.

You're in for a much smoother ride when you use Eyeball to communicate with other Eyeball Chat users. The video-messaging feature works like a charm -- even when the sending PC is behind a firewall. Once synchronised, the sender uploads the video file while the receiver downloads and plays it.

Just like Yahoo Messenger and Windows Messenger (the version of MSN that works only in Windows XP), Eyeball does real-time video chat, but only among Eyeball users. Video quality hovers around just average -- even when you change the settings so that Eyeball shoots at a higher frame rate, the image is still jerky -- but audio quality is excellent. Unfortunately, Eyeball mimics the way Yahoo, not Windows Messenger, displays video. During a video call, Eyeball plants up to four different windows on the desktop: one to show the view of your camera, a second to show your buddy's face, a third to hold the typed chat, and the Eyeball main window. That's too much screen real estate for us -- we prefer Windows Messenger's all-in-one display.

The closer you look at Eyeball, the dimmer it gets. Although this client includes several IM standards, including file transfer, contact authorisation and chat rooms, each is second-rate. You can transfer files only to other Eyeball users (not to AIM, MSN, or Yahoo types), there's no way to make yourself invisible to online buddies, and you can't create your own chat room to converse privately with pals.

Disappointingly, Eyeball also lacks many features found in other top-notch IMs such as ICQ and Yahoo Messenger, including PC-to-phone calling, file sharing, Web-based instant messaging and multi-party private chats (Eyeball's text chat is one-on-one only). And Eyeball's tech support, even for an IM client, is poor. All you get is a meagre FAQ and a short list of troubleshooting instructions; there's no email address (or phone number) for technical support, so we were unable to figure out our video-messaging problem. Eyeball gets another strike for its DIY approach to firewall configuration. You may have to download a patch and manually reconfigure your firewall before this IM will work -- just don't expect Eyeball to hold your hand through the process.

We want one client that will connect us to all of our buddies, no matter what software they're using. Despite the hype, Eyeball Chat 2.0 isn't it. Although this chat program lets you chat with AIM, MSN and Yahoo users, we're not all that impressed: Odigo handles AIM, ICQ and Yahoo, and Trillian does those three plus MSN. Until Eyeball has a better eye on the ball, forget it. Head for Odigo or Trillian if you're pining for an all-in-one IM. Yahoo Messenger's video chat isn't perfect, but it certainly beats Eyeball Chat for now.

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