Yahoo Messenger with Voice 8 is packed with features designed to make it your one-stop Web communications shop. To that end, Messenger 8's integration with the brand's other services comes close to fulfilling that goal for current Yahoo users, despite some quirks. If you want to give VoIP calling a whirl without signing up for another service, such as Skype, Messenger 8 is a terrific option. Thanks to its interactive avatars and many fun plug-ins, Yahoo's IM client is perhaps the most fun for kids to use.
Plus, you can add contacts outside of the Yahoo network and chat via text with users of Windows Live or MSN Messenger. We clicked the Add A Contact link within Yahoo Messenger and added a Windows Live friend to our contact list as easily as adding a Yahoo pal. To chat with users of other messaging brands in the past, you'd have to use an IM tool such as Trillian.
This download took about a minute via broadband in our tests. During installation, the default options will place a Messenger icon on your desktop and set Yahoo as your default search engine, so make sure to unclick those choices if you don't want these changes. You'll have to go a step further and pick Custom Install if you want to reject the Yahoo browser Toolbar. We're pretty annoyed that Yahoo, along with plenty of other vendors, foists such add-ons upon you by default. Without those extras, the download takes up about 9MB on your hard drive.
Once installed, the layout of Messenger doesn't depart much from its predecessor's. We find the layout slightly more intuitive than that of its rival Windows Live Messenger. Yahoo Messenger displays drop-down menus along the top and bottom tabs for the company's other properties, such as Yahoo Music and 360 blogs. It also offers two search fields: one to look up contacts, the other for Internet queries. We found the animated bottom panel of ads distracting and annoying, and we wished we could hide it.
You can liven up your chat window by applying your own colour scheme, though Windows Live Messenger offers more free options here. We're not a fan of Yahoo's IMvironments, which let you brandish the chat interface's background with an ad for cars, cartoons, movies, and even beer. At least Microsoft provides noncommercial background themes. But Yahoo lets you build a free avatar, which is a paid extra within Windows Live Messenger.
Yahoo Messenger with Voice 8 has separate search bars that let you find contacts and look up anything at Yahoo Search. You and your chat buddy can view the same Internet search results at once, which could be helpful, say, if you're trying to catch an 8pm movie together. And when you highlight and roll over text within a message, Yahoo's LiveWords engine pops up related search results. You can also format text, send emoticons and animated winks and nudges, play games with other users, and send SMS messages to and from a mobile phone.
Additionally, Yahoo has opened Messenger's code to developers so that savvy users can add new functions to the IM tool. The current 180 plug-ins -- available here--allow you to track eBay auctions within Messenger 8, share Yahoo Maps and Calendars with chat buddies, and listen to free music with the Launchcast service. As a nod to Yahoo's fan base on Wall Street, the updated Yahoo Finance plug-in allows you to view company stock prices and recommend picks to friends. Many of the plug-ins are perfect for young users to share -- especially the new Yahoo Avatar Space. With this add-on, your avatar will be able to interact with your buddy's avatar, each alter ego reacting to the words you both type. Mention love, and your avatar's heart will visibly throb; flowers may bloom at their mere mention; and you might even call up an angel. Neat third-party tools include the Eazibo flowchart and photo-sharing tool for sharing custom pictures with pals.
Yahoo's drag-and-drop photo sharing is a breeze for buddies who want to show off their latest snapshots. Once a buddy accepts your sharing invitation, you can drop a picture or a bunch of images into the chat window, then use the mouse as a pointer to call attention to a specific image. You can view larger pictures if they're already uploaded to a Yahoo Photos account and save a friend's photos to your hard drive.
You can also drop up to 10 files of 10MB each within Yahoo's IM window, which prompts your pal to save the documents onto a hard drive. However, we prefer the approach of Windows Live Messenger, which opens a file sharing folder that both users can change in real time and includes an upfront scanning and cleaning system for potential security threats.
Windows Live Messenger is the champ at full-screen, 640x480 video chatting, but we found the quality of free voice chats to be equally clear within Yahoo Messenger. Yahoo's setup for PC-to-phone and phone-to-PC calling is also friendly enough that VoIP newbies might give it a try. Yahoo also offers compatible handsets.
Yahoo provides a searchable and detailed online knowledge base, a tutorial for getting started, as well as user forums. However, we wish that Yahoo Messenger with Voice 8 offered e-mail assistance like Windows Live does.
If you don't need the graphic goodies of Yahoo Messenger and its ilk, then we recommend the bare-bones Google Talk. Overall, if you don't mind an IM client that's heavy on the smiley faces but still rich in features, we recommend Yahoo Messenger with Voice 8 for its ease of use, photo sharing, integrated search, and voice-calling options.