For the first time, you can add contacts outside of the Windows Live or MSN network. Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Live Messenger now allow you to chat via text with buddies who use either tool. We clicked the Add A Contact link within Windows Live Messenger to add a Yahoo-using friend to our contact list in a few quick steps. To do so in the past, you'd have to use a tool such as Trillian.
This 14MB download took just a few minutes in our tests, though we had to proceed with care to prevent Windows Live Messenger from installing unwanted items, such as a desktop shortcut or Rhapsody music software. Once installed, Windows Live Messenger displays a drop-down menu of features along the top, contacts within the center pane, a search box on the bottom, and tabs for eBay, Rhapsody, and other services along the left. Microsoft fans will like the integration with MSN Spaces and the company's other properties. However, we wish we could hide the animated panel of ads at the bottom.
The chat window is customizable, so you can pick a color scheme or choose from themes and paid avatars, most of which cater to kids and tweens. See more details of the changes in our slide show of Windows Live Messenger beta. If you don't need the graphics bells and whistles of this tool and those of the similar Yahoo Messenger with Voice or AIM, we recommend the bare-bones Google Talk.