Yahoo now calls version 7.0 of its instant-messaging tool Yahoo Messenger with Voice, playing up this app's ability to double as a Net-based phone service. Yahoo's tool is the second most popular instant messenger behind AIM, whose VoIP-enhanced update remains in a beta test version code-named Triton. No longer are instant messenger programs just for text chat; a host of vendors are building phone capabilities into their IM clients. Yahoo recommends that you reserve 21.3MB on your hard drive to download this program, which has an installation time of 1 minute via broadband but up to 49 minutes if you're dialing up on a 56Kbps modem.
Upside: Yahoo Messenger with Voice looks and feels the same as Yahoo Messenger 6.0. The biggest enhancement is the VoIP capability, which lets you speak clearly with other users of the program. Like its rivals, Yahoo Messenger with Voice lets users make voice calls via a computer microphone and speakers, but it's the only messenger service with free voicemail. In our informal tests, we found the sound quality to be as good as or better than a telephone landline. Just hook up a headset and mic to your computer and hit the Call button in Messenger's chat window. Without having to hunt for instructions, we dragged and dropped our latest snapshots into the program to show them off to a friend. Yahoo Messenger with Voice introduces the LiveWords feature, where you can conduct Web searches by highlighting text within your chat and rolling over a magnifying glass icon. If you or your friends use Yahoo 360 blogs, you can now check updates from Messenger's main window. Yahoo Messenger with Voice also detects and blocks more IM spam, or spim.
Downside: Take a few extra minutes to do a custom installation of Yahoo Messenger with Voice so that you can cherry-pick your preferences. Unfortunately, the default installation is aggressive in changing your Web browser's home page and search engine to Yahoo if you don't tell it not to. And mastering the LiveWords search was tricky for us at first; we had to consult Help to learn that you must roll over the magnifying glass icon, but not click it, to pop up three initial search results. Then you must click in those results to open the searches in a Web browser. Like most IM tools, Yahoo Messenger shuts out Mac users. Yahoo provides an online knowledge base but no e-mail chat support.
Outlook: Yahoo Messenger with Voice is the richest IM tool on the market so far, thanks to its ease of use and multimedia integration. Not only does this Messenger serve as a Net phone, it also lets you share searches, multiple photos, files, and blog entries while you chat. But there's plenty of competition from other IM, VoIP, and social-networking tools. We look forward to seeing how AOL's next version of AIM will compare to Yahoo Messenger with Voice. Return soon for a more detailed review and rating.