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IM Beta Battle: AIM Vs. Yahoo! Messenger

Both AOL and Yahoo! have released betas of their new IM clients. But are these feature-laden applets an improvement?
AOL Instant Messenger Beta

Like Yahoo! Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger Beta tries to load a lot of power into a small client window. Although AOL keeps up in the new features arena, the presentation is less elegant than Yahoo!'s.

To start with, there is an advertisement running at the top of the window. This is not only annoying, but it takes up valuable real estate in the client window. Buddy names are more crowded and the font is more difficult to read than in Yahoo!, and you cannot selectively make yourself available as you can in the Yahoo! Messenger beta.

AOL presents you with a mini browser window offering content that they dub "AIM Today." This is supposed to present local information based on the zip code you enter during setup, but other than the weather, I didn't see anything obviously local in nature on the home page. What's more, they annoyed me further with a pop-up window displaying an ad for their new mail service.

The instant messaging window where you enter messages looks a lot like an e-mail form, including "To" and "From" fields at the top. The entry area is large enough to view several lines of text -- a nice touch, because it can be irritating if you can only see one line when you add text than that.

AOL includes such features as online radio and a Net2Phone computer-to-phone service similar to Yahoo!'s (but more expensive at 3.9 cents per minute for a domestic U.S. call). You can also turn on a news ticker or a customizable stock ticker detail window. Both of these features open in a separate window, which could make for a crowded desktop if you have the messenger, the mini browser, the stock ticker detail and the news ticker open all at the same time. You can also run a stock ticker in the client window, but since the client window is rather narrow, it is difficult to view this way.

In the end, AOL and Yahoo! suffer from trying to outdo one another. The client gets bogged down with unnecessary functions that most people won't use. Since these clients are free, the real purpose seems to be to be to build brand loyalty across a range of functions, but that has left us with programs that have lost their focus.

AOL Instant Messenger Beta
America Online, Inc.
www.aol.com
Price: Free
Summary: The AOL message window provides a clean, clear way to send messages. Unfortunately, AOL has chosen to pack the IM client with unnecessary features, and even ads, making for an overcrowded interface.

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