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Microsoft Messenger 7 For Mac: Screwed Up Again?


Redmond (WA) - After way too many small upgrades and painfully long product cycles,

Messenger 7 is a major upgrade for Microsoft’s Mac messaging platform and it is just common sense that there are high expectations in such a release. As expected, the upgraded app brings many minor improvements and tweaks that make it behave much more like the PC counterpart. There are a few important new features for enterprise users, showing that Microsoft is also considering Macs advances in business environments.

Unfortunately, two new key features - audio calls and videoconferencing - are still incomplete. Audio calls, multi-party conference calls and video-conferences are now available for the first time in the Messenger for Mac, but this feature set is limited to users who run the app in an enterprise environment and in conjunction with the Microsoft Communicator and Exchange Server. Home users, however, will have to wait for this feature. Microsoft said that VoIP and video calls to Windows Live Messenger will be enabled through updates further down the road, but there is no indication when this feature will actually be available.

So, if you are looking for audio call functionality on your Mac, Messenger 7 is not the software you want to use.

But there is good news as well. Enterprise users now can search for contacts using a Global Address List (GAL). Messenger 7 also sports improved status integration with Office Communicator 2007, which enables the application to display personal status messages in a business environment, including a "Do Not Disturb" notification (which had not been available before). If you are planning to use Messenger 7 for Mac with corporate accounts, you will need Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 as well. Personal Messenger accounts require a registration for a (free) Windows Live ID account.

So, why exactly is Messenger 7 for Mac such a big deal? Microsoft’s Messenger service is considered the most popular IM services in the world, connecting more than 250 million active users. What once started as a small IM app that was inferior to services offered by Yahoo or AOL gradually grew to become a centerpiece of Microsoft’s unified communications strategy. The Messenger service was recently re-branded to become Windows Live Messenger (WLM) and part of Microsoft’s free Windows Live suite for online collaboration, publishing and communication. Mac users, of course know, that the Messenger for Mac has had a less glamorous history.

Messenger for Mac has never been a carbon copy of its PC counterpart in terms of features. The first Mac versions of Messenger offered only minimal IM functionality. Features such as emoticons or file transfers were implemented into the Mac service through a slow update path, seriously crippling the ability of Mac users to effectively communicate with Windows Messenger users. Even with this upgrade, Messenger still doesn’t allow you to place free VoIP calls and hold one-on-one or multi-party video-conferences with WLM contacts. On the other hand, Mac users always had other comprehensive IM tools available, such as Apple’s own iChat, AIM, the multi-service tool Pidgin, Skype, and others. Most of them offer audio and videoconferencing as standard features, most notably iChat and Skype.

To us, it looks like Microsoft is late again. But we have to admit that the new logo looks nice.