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 color 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 8 p.m. 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.