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Version 3.0 of Yahoo!'s Messenger(Download) instant-messaging client includes new features like voice chat, online conversations, and better integration between Messenger and Yahoo!'s calendar and auction services. Although it's not as popular as AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger is a worthy challenger.
We found Messenger's voice chat relatively simple to use. We just right-clicked on the name of one of the people on our list of friends and selected the voice chat option. A window popped up and connected us to a voice chat server, letting us begin our conversation. The chat feature is full-duplex, allowing you to talk and listen at the same time.
The sound quality was fairly good over our DSL connection, although understandably it was not quite as good as with a regular telephone connection. Still, considering that the service is free—unlike the telephone—voice quality was more than acceptable.
One of Messenger's strong points has always been its integration into Yahoo!'s vast array of services. That integration has just gotten tighter with new tabs that add Yahoo! Auctions and Yahoo! Calendar to Messenger's interface. These tabs are completely optional—if you don't use either of those services you don't need to keep them available in Messenger.
Yahoo! hasn't stopped there though, as it integrates instant messaging directly into its content, a service called Conversations. For example, anyone reading a news story on Yahoo! can click on the Conversation link to start a conversation. Anyone who has Messenger installed and running can choose to contact the person who started the conversation instantly, thus beginning an exchange based on the news story.
Messenger users can also find existing conversations by visiting the Conversations directory page, where conversations are broken down by category and topic. This is a bold and interesting use of instant messaging to build a context-based community: providing the immediate, real-time conversation of a chat room while also offering a private environment in which the exchange can occur.
Messenger now features notification messages that alert you to the presence of a friend online and to new e-mail. Thankfully, these messages are not too intrusive; we had the option of turning them off in our Preferences settings.
Yahoo! has done a good job with this release. If you're a current Yahoo! Messenger user, this upgrade is a no-brainer. If you're still shopping around for an instant messaging service, be sure to check it out.
Product: Yahoo! Messenger 3.0 Rating: Price: Free download Requires: Yahoo! Account; Netscape Navigator 3.0 or Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 or later; Microsoft Windows 95, 98, or NT Company: Yahoo! Inc.; http://messenger.yahoo.com/