Having been spotted in dogfood back in September, Windows Live WebMessenger today moves into beta at webmessenger.live.com. Replacing the aging MSN WebMessenger, the new Windows Live version sports more advanced features that bring it closer in line with Windows Live Messenger, its client counterpart. As you’ll see from the review below, the new webmessenger actually exceeds Messenger v8.5 in several respects.
After signing in, the first thing you’ll notice is the new Windows Live UI at the top of the browser window. This header area shows the user’s display picture and allows you to change the display name, personal status message (PSM) and current online status. It also contains the main options menu, which although somewhat basic, allow you to configure some key parts of the service; notably notifications and auto-away status.
There are some basic contact control options available such as adding/blocking/inviting and deleting, however that’s it. Contacts are displayed in by groups, an improvement from the online/offline used by MSN WebMessenger, and these groups can be expanded or collapsed as you wish. However there is still no option that lets you configure which contacts are displayed. Compare this to the Messenger client where you can filter contacts to show all contacts/Messenger contacts/Online contacts only. Unfortunately this means that all offline contacts with an IM address are shown as well, so luckily there is a wordwheel. Much like in the main client, this feature allows you to quickly search through your contact list just by typing in part of a name.
Starting a conversation with a contact sees a new tab open in the right hand sidebar, underneath the address book image – clicking this icon takes you back to the main contact list view. Multiple conversations can be stacked in this sidebar, with each tab featuring a “pop out” option, which allows you to take the conversation into a separate browser window. This is useful for those who don’t like tabbed chatting, or if you want to give a particular conversation more focus than the rest. Credit must go to the WebMessenger team for implementing tabbed chatting before the client team. Conversation windows feature a toolbar that allows you to send nudges or select emoticons from a drop down list, and can also be minimised to show just 2 lines of the last text sent or received.
Windows Live WebMessenger also supports Multiple Points of Presence (MPOP), one of the not-to-be discussed features of Messenger v9. This allows users to sign in at multiple locations, meaning you can be logged on to Messenger on your home PC, and WebMessenger elsewhere, at the same time. Of course this only works with the new generation of Windows Live services, it doesn’t work with Messenger 8.5 or below, MSN WebMessenger or any of the mobile clients (that we know of – send us an email if you find one that does!)
Overall Windows Live WebMessenger beta is a nice update from MSN WebMessenger, though its missing a lot of the client options around contact list management.