Live Messenger, previously known as MSN Messenger, was renamed as part of Microsoft's move towards the Live online community. So far, the most popular IM app in the world had already gone through a bunch of updates, but this new name also meant important changes that would somehow start a new period in Messenger's history.
Live Messenger includes some outstanding characteristics that are well worth a mention. Firstly, its all-new interface features a completely different design from traditional Windows applications, which you can also customize by choosing your own color scheme. In order to maintain this neatness, the menu bar has been hidden under a single top right corner button but this makes it a bit uncomfortable to browse through options. Luckily, the most common actions (send email, call a contact, access MSN Spaces and view shared folders) have been implemented as nice little buttons right under your username, so they're easy to access. Another thing we liked is that you can hide side tabs in the main interface window (right click on any of them and check the "Hide tabs" checkbox). However, there's apparently no way to hide the bottom ad. Live Messenger offers plenty of emoticons and winks to cheer up your conversations with. You can expand both collections by easily adding new sets which you'll find by the hundred on the Internet. Customization possibilities include changing the chat window background or even adding a personal message to your nickname, but not creating custom status messages. At least this new version features the longed-for offline messaging tool, enabling you to leave a message to any of your contacts even if they're not online.
The two most important features in this new Messenger are the ability of sharing folders and making free PC-to-phone calls. As for the first one, it proves as a very handy way to share pictures, while the second feature allows you to save some pennies on your phone bill. However, this service is currently only available in certain countries (United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Finland, Belgium, Spain and Italy) and requires a subscription to the Verizon Web Calling system.
In any case, you can always make use of the PC-to-PC call feature, which provides excellent sound quality. In fact, we must say this feature has been pretty well implemented in Live Messenger. Its ease of use makes it a great alternative to written conversations: just click on the phone icon and your friend will instantly receive an invitation to answer the phone call on the chat window itself. A simple wizard will guide you through audio configuration and a couple of sliders enable you control the volume of your speakers (or headphones) and mic. You can still use the chat window while you talk, for instance to send a web link or a handwritten message.
Summing up, the main issue with Live Messenger is that it has taken it too much time to offer tools that were already found in other IM apps, such as the VoIP calls mentioned above. However, its attractive design plus the huge number of people who are already MSN Messenger users (and who will eventually upgrade their client) will probably help this Live version reach the top.