Microsoft Messenger 5

At long last, Microsoft has released an updated version of its popular Messenger application. The first new thing about it is its name, changed from MSN Messenger to Microsoft Messenger. The software itself does include fairly major changes to the previous versions, and the first update that strikes you is its new look. Messenger 5 has had an aluminium makeover in keeping with the look of the iLife apps.

For the first time in the Mac version, Messenger 5 allows access to other IM networks as well as Microsoft’s own. Through Messenger 5 you can access AOL, Yahoo, AIM and iChat networks, all from within one application. Many other clients have this functionality already, and it seems as if Microsoft felt it needed to play catch-up. Messenger 5 also allows business users to make use of a Corporate account, providing they have set up a Live Communications Server. This allows you to chat securely with colleagues behind a firewall, separately from your personal MSN account, which can remain logged in. You can have different statuses for each account, allowing employers to think you are busy working while still appearing available to your friends.

Apart from these behind the scenes changes, there are only two new features that most users will really benefit from. At long last, users can now set their own display pictures and view the display pictures of those in their contact list. This is quite a nice touch, but doesn’t add anything really useful to a chat. The same can easily be said of their new animated emoticons. While watching someone virtually wink at you is quite fun, it’s no great improvement over static smileys. It’s also worth noting that the PC version of Messenger has had these features for a long time.

This update doesn’t offer any of the more advanced features that the majority of users probably want, such as webcams, audio or custom emoticons. Again, these have all been in the PC version of the software for some time, but still have yet to appear in the Mac version. Perhaps Microsoft doesn’t see webcams and audio as worth its while, but given the relatively small inroads that iChat has made against MSN, it is no doubt a feature set that many users would want.


While it is nice to know that Microsoft hasn’t given up on Mac users completely, you do get the feeling that it has been aiming to do just enough to convince people that it is continuing to develop Messenger, without really adding anything that people really want. However, version 5 is free, so any update is better than none.

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