Hangouts Extension For Chrome Brings Conversations To Your Desktop

Use Hangouts outside the browser. An overlooked Chrome extension from Google lets you chat without opening Gmail or Google+.

Back in May, Google announced it was launching a new messaging service: Google Hangouts. This was a way for the company to combine its redundant messaging services: the ever-popular Google Talk, the little used Google+ Messenger, popular videoconferencing service Google Hangouts and (eventually) phone enhancement service Google Voice.

There are mobile apps, of course, but no platform-specific desktop version – most users doubtless think of the service as part of Gmail. But a perhaps overlooked feature is the Hangouts extension for Chrome.

This extension takes your conversations outside your browser and to your desktop, but is it functional? In truth this is a mixed bag. Here’s why.

Pro: Brings Your Chat Outside Your Browser

Let’s start with the obvious pro here: the Hangouts extension for Chrome pops out of the browser, so you don’t have to open your Gmail tab to respond to an IM. This is wonderful.

hangouts chrome chat   Hangouts Extension For Chrome Brings Conversations To Your Desktop

Every conversation is given its own window, which you can place alongside any other program to chat while you’re doing something else. This makes it easy to chat with someone while working or playing. Beautiful.

Con: It Does So In A Weird Way

It’s nice to have the chat window outside Gmail but the way its handled is kind of…odd. These windows are basically unlike any windows anywhere on your system. And it’s not just visual: by default new Hangouts windows cling to the bottom of the screen, hovering over top of everything. Here’s one annoying window obscuring my Mac’s dock:

hangouts chrome weirdness   Hangouts Extension For Chrome Brings Conversations To Your Desktop

If I want to click an icon on my dock that happens to be beneath this, I first need to minimize the window. Then, when I’m clicking, I need to be careful not to let my mouse touch the hangouts bar – doing so will partially cover my dock all over again. It’s a minor thing, sure, but companies like Apple and Microsoft spend time developing consistent window management structures for a reason. Quirks like this can really annoy users over time.

hangouts chrome more weirdness   Hangouts Extension For Chrome Brings Conversations To Your Desktop

Google’s basically taken something that worked while overlaid on Gmail and tried to overlay it over everyone’s desktop. It would be nice to have the option to use my operating system’s standard window decorations and structure, not to mention a single window for all conversations. The way Hangout handles this on tablets could be a template:

hangouts tablet   Hangouts Extension For Chrome Brings Conversations To Your Desktop

At the left is a list of people, while on the right is the currently open conversation. Much more usable, and an obvious fit for the desktop: a single windows for all conversations. Google: make it so. At the very least, make it an option.

Pro: Group Conversations

Google Talk never really offered a way to chat with multiple people, which is why people used services like PartyChat, which creats a Google Talk chat room. That’s not necessary anymore. Now it’s extremely simple to start a group conversation with as many people as you like.

Con: Group Conversations

Group conversations are wonderful, but they also tend to be distracting. So while I like the feature in spirit, practically I tend to find it a huge time sink. And with the Chrome extension, that time sink is always popping up – not just when you happen to have Gmail open.

Pro: Syncs perfectly with mobile version

This is, for me, the most compelling reason to use Hangouts over any third party messaging client. If someone sends you a message, you’ll see it. If you talk with someone on your mobile, you’ll be able to reference it on your desktop. Chrome’s extension means you’ll get chats in realtime regardless of whether you happen to have Gmail open, and that’s a good thing.

Con: Third party apps are no longer a priority

Google used to be famous for its open-source friendliness, but not so much lately. Hangouts isn’t an exception to this rule. Google Talk was based on XMPP, but that standard isn’t completely supported by Hangouts. This means any third party clients you use – including Pidgin, Trillian and Adium – will no longer show you messages sent while you were offline.

pidgin offline   Hangouts Extension For Chrome Brings Conversations To Your Desktop

Group conversations are also incompatible with third-party clients. I suppose this is more of a pro for the Chrome extension – you need it to use these features. But it also kind of sucks that Google made these features exclusive to its own client – especially considering the other problems that might otherwise drive users to third-party solutions.

Too Soon To Say: Voice Integration

google voice logo   Hangouts Extension For Chrome Brings Conversations To Your Desktop

Google Voice integration is coming to Hangouts, if announcements with no date attached can be believed. Anyone wanting all of their text messages to happen in one place should be excited about this: you’ll be able to send texts, on your desktop, from Google Hangouts – and everything will sync with your mobile devices. This could be a major plus for Hangouts, at least in countries where Voice offers free SMS messages (the USA).

Integration with the phone part of Voice is complete – you can call any number and receive incoming calls– but desktop SMS messaging will give Hangouts a huge edge over its mobile-own competitors.

Conclusion

Oh man, I wish I had a conclusion. There’s a lot of love in Google Hangouts, and changes to Talk means that some features – including offline messages – basically require use of the new service. But its still disappointing to see such an important application be a Chrome exclusive, and have such poor integration with most desktops.

Still, if you’re a die-hard Google Hangouts user, this extension is essential. It keeps you in tough regardless of what you’re doing online, and that’s useful.

What do you think? Is Hangouts a huge step forward for messaging, or a change you accept begrudgingly? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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7 Comments -

Morris

Yes but it doesn’t support the SMS part of hangouts. I thought it was going to so you could reply to texts from your desktop

Justin P

Yeah, I’m disappointed with this too. They pushed this out before it was ready…

jamie

Yes, initially the hangout window covers your icons, but you can undock the hangout window and place it where ever you would like on your desktop. Problem solved. Why no mention of the cell phone integration? My cell rings, so does my desktop hangouts. I can answer via cell or computer headset.

Justin P

Yeah, I should have explained more, because even when you undock this window is going to behave different than any window on your system. It will insist on sticking the sides, which is annoying. You also can’t command-tab to your messenger window from Chrome, because it’s considered part of Chrome, which is annoying.

The program will dock itself with any other windows you might have open, vertically. The result is kind of cool – you minimize one window within the stack by clicking on it – until you add too many windows. Wide screens means vertical space is the thing most computers are lacking, and this stacking hits against those limits quickly.

I’m not saying this is a completely failed effort, I’m just saying it’s annoying that these windows behave different than any other on your system. It’s confusing, and unnecessary.

Kevin

Bizarrely the dock obscuring feature of the hangout windows only actually started after I upgraded to Mavericks. Back on 10.8.x the dock was shown over the hangout window. I agree that it is a total pain in the backside that the obscuring has started now.

Justin P

it just feels like the system is alien to the Mac. A single window option would be wonderful, if anyone from Google is reading this.

Eric Hayes

I think this is a bit of a clunky and awkward app. I initially installed it because I wanted an even easier way to start a google hangout. Apparently this is still rather difficult to do. So, I worked on an extension that allows you to start a hangout and then copies a link to the hangout to your clipboard:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/one-click-google-hangout/aokjakdncnbbfhhammcdkbblmcglpobn