Microsoft’s Windows Live Essentials suite of software has been in beta testing since June, and a few days ago we saw the release of the full suite of software including the updated Windows Live Messenger 2011.
Windows Live Messenger 2011 contains a brand new ribbon interface that aims to bring Messenger in-line with the other ribbon-based applications such as Windows 7 Paint and Microsoft Office 2010. This new interface has advantages and disadvantages.
The obvious major change to the interface is that the main window area is no longer just your friends list. The friends list has been moved to the right hand side and the majority of the window is taken up by your social networking. Currently, you can integrate Facebook, MySpace and (new to the the full version) LinkedIn accounts into this main window. Surprisingly there is no Twitter integration. You can go back to the old style list view in windowed mode, but the maximised view might take some time to get used to.
Facebook Chat is integrated well with Windows Live Messenger. Previously this feature was only available to those in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and Brazil, but we can confirm now that more countries have been added to the support list.
WLM 2011 introduces tabbed conversation windows with a familiar ribbon-style interface. Instead of each open conversation being allocated to a separate window as with previous Messenger versions, all conversations are put together into a single, tabbed window. This window is complete with middle-click to close tabs and tab rearrangement. While the tabs appear in one window, like Internet Explorer each tab appears separate in the Windows 7 taskbar.
While the basic mechanics of WLM conversations haven’t changed, Windows Live Messenger automatically embeds YouTube videos in the conversation window when you post a YouTube link, as long as both people are running 2011. I actually found this feature to be quite annoying, and as yet we haven’t discovered the setting where to actually disable this.
Unfortunately, Windows Live Messenger 2011 is also completely loaded with advertising. Under the contacts list there is advertising, under conversations there is advertising and there are buttons that take you to affiliated websites. To have so much advertising it really takes up a huge amount of space that could be used for other, more useful purposes. We do understand that advertising is what keeps WLM free, but Microsoft could have tried to keep it to some small banners or text-only ads. (If you are extremely frustrated with the advertising around Windows Live Messenger you can remove it via third party software such as A-Patch).
Other new interface features include a new Office 2010 style notification pop-up, a brand new set of emoticons, a simplified options menu that unfortunately (or thankfully!) removes the ability to have custom names.
WLM 2011 still leaves much to desire for the instant messenger, despite Microsoft’s best efforts with useful social integration and a good new interface. With some major bugs still remaining from the beta program, you are left with the feeling that Microsoft rushed to release Windows Live Messenger 2011 to the masses.