AOL's instant-messaging brand, AIM, has stiff competition that includes Yahoo Messenger with Voice and Windows Live Messenger. As those rivals now allow users to chat with each other, their combined user base exceeds that of AIM. Rumors abound that AIM will join this alliance, but at this point no such developments exist.
In our tests, it took about a minute to download AIM Triton 1.2 preview. Think before you click during installation to avoid placing yourself on advertising lists or changing the default options on your system. For example, uncheck the options for installing AOL Explorer and Toolbar if you don't need them.
We were able to log in to AIM Triton beta with a handle from a canceled AOL account, but oddly, we couldn't use that handle to set up AIM's free Phoneline calling service. Instead, to obtain an AIM Phoneline telephone number, we created a new sign-in name and password.
The narrow, blue-and-white interface of AIM Triton is easy to scoot to the edge of your screen, leaving desktop space for other tasks, and we found it less obtrusive than its Yahoo and Windows Live rivals. Within its interface, AIM Triton displays small icons linking to other AOL properties--Mail, Talk Center, Video and Radio--as well as, unfortunately, a rotating graphical ad. The File, Edit, and View drop-down menus are easy to figure out, and a handy contact-search field lies below the Buddies and Addresses tab.
The chat window is well designed, with tabs for messaging via text, voice, or video and for sharing pictures and files. But type into the Search the Web field and, unlike the embedded search of Yahoo Messenger with Voice 8 beta, AIM opens another browser window. Our main beef with Triton's interface isn't the design of the app itself, but the way its links kept littering our desktop with browser windows.
To dress up your chatting, you can click AOL Expressions from the Edit menu and pick from both noncommercial and branded backgrounds and avatars that dance and sing. However cute a talking starfish may be for kids, after a day of the cartoon's wisecracks, we reverted to our bare-bones, icon-free Triton backdrop. If you prefer an emoticon-free, encrypted chatting service for the office, we recommend trying AIM Pro.