Posted by Steven


Meet the new Messenger beta

Hello, I’m Steven Abrahams, Lead Program Manager for Windows Live Messenger. I want to tell you about some of the thinking that’s gone into the new Windows Live Messenger beta, and the new features. As Aaron mentioned in our previous post, we’ll have more in-depth posts on each of the new features of this Messenger beta in the upcoming weeks. 

When we started planning the next version of Messenger, we wanted to continue providing a great user-centered, hand-crafted experience for instant messaging, but we also wanted to bring in some new features that connect you with the rest of Windows Live.

We are truly excited about this beta release of Messenger, and so I’d like to give you an overview of some of the improvements you’ll see.

Some of the changes you’ll notice right away:

Glassy: The new Messenger, like the other Windows Live beta programs, is now framed in beautiful Windows Vista “glass,” similar to what you may have seen in Windows Vista.

Clean: We simplified the main window by removing the top toolbar and moving tabs from the side to the bottom. We found people really weren’t using the top toolbar buttons except for Mail, so we found a new spot for Mail, and removed the other toolbar buttons. We also really cleaned up the conversation window, made the toolbars there more streamlined, and gave you more room to IM. 

People, people, people: You told us you wanted to see real pictures of people. So, now you can display your contacts’ real display pictures in your contact list. You can choose from 3 different picture sizes, or, no picture at all.

People and web search: You can now search for people and web pages from one field. If you type in someone’s name, we first look to see if they are in your contact list. If they aren’t, you can try searching for their profile on Windows Live, or for other info about them on the web. You can also just type in Movies in 94118 and click web search, and we’ll take you directly to the Internet search results.

Categories and groups: What used to be called “groups” is now called “categories.” The old “groups” were really just categories of your Messenger contacts. This change makes room for a new, more powerful groups feature that you can use across all of the Windows Live services. We’ll talk more about that below.

We’ve received a lot of feedback from our over 300 million customers, and we’ve responded with some great new features. Let me tell you about a few of them in more detail.

Favorite people at the top

It turns out that despite how many people you know, there are only a few that you  keep in touch with really often, and want to see at the top of your contact list. Favorites is a new category in Messenger—think of it as your speed dial for friends, family, or anyone you just want to keep in view.

You can add and  remove people from your favorites list and re-order them up and down. It helps you keep a select group of people easily accessible. I have my wife, friends that I frequently IM, and the folks on my team in this category. You can add as many people as you like to your favorites , or if you prefer to have everyone in one big list, you can also hide the favorites category.

What’s your scene?

Some of you who use Messenger a lot have been asking to be able to skin and colorize windows to meet your personal aesthetic or to match your mood. Well, now you can select the scene that appears in your main Messenger window, and your contacts get to see it in the conversation window too.

Setting your scene in Messenger

You start by selecting a picture, either one of the default Windows Live scenes, or any photo from your own collection. When you drag the photo over the top of the Messenger contact list, the pictures is painted across the header of the Messenger main window. Pretty cool, huh?

The other cool thing is that when you’re chatting with a friend, your scene appears in their conversation window, and their scene appears in yours.  

Now your friends get to see not only your display picture and personal message, but when you’re chatting, they also get to see your scene.

Dynamic display pictures

Dynamic avatars built through our partners have been around for a while, and lots of people love them. But now, you can make your own dynamic display picture that can “react” to the emoticons you use in your IM conversations. And you can make short video clips for each of your moods.

Try it out. Click your display picture and select Tile with moods. Then, pose 5 times for your webcam (like in a photo booth), and make a fun dynamic display picture to show your friends.

What’s new with people you know

If you’re like me, you have a huge contact list, and it is nearly impossible to keep track of what everyone is up to. You and your friends are doing all kinds of things on Windows Live — posting photos, blogging, changing their personal messages – but unless you check their space or they send you a message telling you about it, you may not see the new activity.

Well, we understand what you’re up against, and so we’ve made it easy to see the latest activities from lots of different people and services all in one place: Messenger.

Messenger has a new module at the bottom of your contact list called “What’s new.” When your friends meet up for a Windows Live event, update their display picture, or post photos, comments, and blog entries on Windows Live, you see it all right there in the What’s new module. You can read updates, click through to the actual item, or move on to the next update.

New conversation window

A lot of thought has gone into the new conversation window. In fact, I have a team of developers dedicated to just that: making the conversation window rock!

One of our big improvements is to infuse your conversations with more of your personality. When you open a conversation window with a friend, the window frame allows you to instantly see their mood, what scene they’ve set, and what their personal message says. Granted, if you are a purist and just want to IM, you can, still do that too. We’ve made it super simple to hide a lot of the personal bells and whistles if that’s what you prefer.

By the way, if you use Messenger for video calls, and you have a computer and webcam capable of VGA video, you’ll want to check out the new full-screen VGA 640×480 video calls through Messenger. It will feel like you are watching TV. I am not kidding. You have got to see it to believe it.


Photo sharing in Messenger

Every day, millions and millions of files and pictures are shared through Messenger. In this latest beta release, we’ve made photo sharing a richer part of the conversation.

Now you can drag a single photo or a bunch of photos right onto the conversation window, and your photos show up right there. You can keep sending IMs back and forth while you and your friends click through the pictures. The photo sharing is synchronized, so if your friend clicks to the next picture, it changes on your screen as well.

I use this feature every day to send screen shots to people, and share photos of my daughter with family and friends. I think you’ll quickly see how it becomes a great new type of conversation.



Sharing photos in Messenger


Chatting with groups

Up to now, Messenger had been mostly about 1-on-1 conversations. But now we’ve added groups into the mix.

The new groups are lists of people who can IM with each other all in one conversation window. The group could be your family, a peer working group, book club, your Friday night poker buddies, or your home owners’ association.

Imagine you are working on a project with two or three other people, and you need to communicate frequently with everyone. Maybe it’s just about fielding a quick question, maybe you want to pull together a working group to discuss a topic, or maybe you just want to see if anyone is ready to take a break and meet up for coffee.

In the new Messenger beta, you can create a group and invite people to join. As members join and come online, the group lights up, and you can start chatting with anyone in the group who is online. By expanding the group in the main window of Messenger, you can see the list of members, and even start a conversation with someone you don’t know yet. Groups are a great way to collaborate, but also to meet new people or deepen your relationships.

What, no green guy anymore?

Messenger has always been about putting people at the center of your experience. The  new design for showing your online status makes it easier than ever to see when the people you care about are available for chatting.  

You can choose to display your contacts using one of 3 display picture sizes, or just show a small colored square that indicates the online status of each contact. We’ve also color-coded the display picture frames, which makes it easy to see when contacts are available (green), busy (red), away (yellow), or offline (gray).

And yes, we have set the green buddy icon free from the online status system. He and his blue pal are still at the center of our brand, logo, and Messenger icons, and they’ll always be with us. But we think the new design is cleaner, less ambiguous, and works well across all of Windows Live.

What do you think?

There have been a lot of changes in this version of Messenger. We got rid of a lot of things that had been hanging around for a while and weren’t getting the kind of use we’d like to see. We hope this has made the experience a lot cleaner, easier, and more fun to use.

We’d love to hear your feedback on the new design and experience, so we can continue to improve. And we’re looking forward to the full release, and hope that you are, too.  Also wanted to thank you to everyone that has provided their feedback so far, please keep it coming.  I know Lonn and Aaron have read ALL of the comments posted so far and have provided summaries to the entire team.

– Steven