MSN Messenger has been rising in popularity ever since it stole ICQ’s thunder back in the day. I used to be an ICQ fan and never really managed to like anything that came out under the Messenger name. Having said that, I was using it for a couple of years before finding a better solution in Miranda IM.
But multi-protocol IM clients are not everyone’s cup of tea, and some people simply want the MSN experience, without the annoyance of what has now become Windows Live Messenger. Those people should definitely try aMSN.
Download & Installation
When looking for an IM program, I don’t expect to have to spend 20 minutes just installing it. This is the case these days when trying to get Windows Live Messenger.
Let’s start with the fact that I first have to opt out of installing numerous other programs that I don’t need, continue with the fact that it forces me to update programs that I don’t wish to, and finish with the appalling installation time of ~10 minutes, plus a required restart. All this for a simple IM client!
aMSN, on the other hand, is a very quick download and installation. 3 minutes after thinking about it, I already had the thing up and running on my computer. The only downside was that it tried to install one third party program as part of the installation. It was easy enough to opt out, though.
Aside from being open source (which is a big plus, if only in principle), aMSN is also multi-platform, and can run on Linux, Windows, Mac, FreeBSD and Nokia N900. If you really wanted it to run on more platforms you could just do it yourself, or find someone who could do it for you.
True, there is an official version of Live Messenger for Mac, but no such thing for Linux as far as I know, and even the Mac version is downloadable from a totally different page. It’s like it’s not even the same program. With aMSN, it’s all there on the same page, you just need to choose your OS and off you go.
Ease Of Use
It was ICQ’s downfall, and now it’s happening to MSN Messenger (and Skype too, to be honest). IM clients shouldn’t be heavy, slow and complicated. Every time I download a new version of Live Messenger, it’s even more bloated, slow and hard to understand. It seems that the simplest things become harder and harder to find.
aMSN is keeping it simple. It’s the same feel (and also look, if you so desire) as MSN Messenger, but everything is quick, responsive, lighter and easy to find. A simple look-around through the menus is all you need. No hidden buttons that you can’t see through a picture-heavy interface (“switch to compact view” anyone?), no hidden menus where you least expect them.
Another thing I found especially appealing in aMSN is the ability to easily choose what simple actions, such as clicking on the “X”, will do. The first time you click on it, you get to choose whether it should quit or minimize. You can choose to remember your choice or choose not to, in which case you can use the “X” button to do something different every time you click on it. This dialogue pops up for other actions as well.
Yes, Live Messenger has themes and badges, and you might even like some of them, but I find most of them offensive. For different themes you have to go to third-party websites and download questionable things.
In aMSN, there are numerous skins that are fairly easy to install (it’s not just clicking as in the regular MSN, but then again, the program is much lighter for it – simply download the skins you want). All the skins are available right there on aMSN’s homepage.
There are some really beautiful skins, including one that gives the whole thing a pretty realistic Live Messenger look (if that’s your thing). If you’re into dark, simple themes, you’re sure to find your fancy as well.
I did encounter some bugginess in some themes where the menus stopped working properly, but I guess that’s part of the deal with open source sometimes.
Aside from the many features that already come with aMSN, there’s a nice list of plugins available for download that can enhance your aMSN experience. You can find all sorts of plugins for Live Messenger as well, but they’re not something Microsoft created, and therefore you have to go searching for them. Nothing is official.
You can also create plugins for features you want to see (if you’re into that sort of thing), or get someone to do it for you. The magic of open source!
As it is, aMSN supports multiple logins from different accounts. You don’t need to install anything additional. Simply open a new instance of aMSN and sign in using a different user and password.
Try to do that with a clean Live Messenger version.
Don’t get me wrong, I thing Microsoft have been doing some awesome things lately, but the bloated IM client syndrome has not passed them untouched. To me, Live Messenger has become almost unusable, and aMSN provides a very similar experience, in a much lighter and friendlier package.
What do you think of aMSN? Do you know of any other good clones out there? Share in the comments.