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Does Google hate desktop users? The mess that is Google Hangouts (previously known as Google Talk) kind of suggests they do. It took someone outside Google hacking away at CSS to finally offer a decent chat experience for Windows, Mac and Linux users – and you can give it a shot right now if you’re a Chrome user.
Chat shouldn’t be complicated, and Google seems to know this…on mobile. Hangouts for Android is the best all-in-one messaging app for that platform, and the iOS version is also straightforward. Open the app; start chatting.
How is it possible Google Hangouts is simultaneously the best mobile and worst desktop app?
— Pete Pachal (@petepachal) July 19, 2015
On the desktop…not so much. Hangouts is designed on these platforms to be second fiddle to something, as Michal Csanaky outlined:
Currently you can access the chat either as a secondary feature in Gmail, or install the Hangouts extension where, similarly as in Gmail, you constantly keep hiding and resizing the chat windows all over your screen.
Neither are great options, so Csanaky made his own alternative version of Hangouts – one that functions more like the mobile versions Google offers. The result, Common Hangouts is what Google should have offered all along
Here you can see all of your conversations, in the same place, without cluttering up Gmail or anything else. Windows don’t pop up over your inbox or your operating system – they’re continued in one tab. It just works.
We can’t help but ask: why did a third party designer have to hack this together, instead of Google offering it?
What Common Hangouts Offers
Common Hangouts, offered as a Chrome extension, is basically a CSS hack that gives you a window with Hangouts and only Hangouts – no Gmail or Google Plus in the background. This is going to be better for many users for a variety of reasons:
- Unlike using Hangouts in Gmail, your chats are the primary focus – not the inevitable distraction of email.
- Unlike the Hangouts extension for Chrome, windows don’t pop up over your work in other programs – everything stays in one place.
- The design is cleaned up quite a bit, in a way that’s easy on the eyes and consistent.
I’m not alone in saying this.
Google Hangouts are near impossible for anything at work, Common Hangouts changes that — Medium http://t.co/8SxJoj8AFM
— Stephen O'Grady (@orishnal) July 21, 2015
Which brings up a relevant question: what is Google offering instead?
What Google Offers
Google’s ongoing mission to unnecessarily complicate our lives with conflicting products means that there are two different Hangouts options for desktop users outside of Gmail. Both aren’t “desktop clients” so much as Chrome-only add-ons, and if you’re looking to add Hangouts to Chrome it’s going to be hard to tell the difference.
The Hangouts extension, which basically pulls your chats out of Gmail and into the rest of your desktop:
The Hangouts app, which (thankfully) puts everything in its own window.
At least, it does now – Google seems to change this one whenever they feel like it. At one point it re-created Facebook’s ‘Chat Heads’ feature:
I actually kind of like the new approach of this app: it’s a single window where you can manage your conversations. But there are still some downsides: you can only see one conversation at a time, and the way in which it relates to Mac’s window manager is confusing to put it lightly.
I would love to use the Google Hangouts Chrome app on Mac for cross-device persistence, but the UI/UX is so bad. Needs a native app.
— Matt Banks (@mattbanks) June 26, 2014
I’m sure both of these approaches work very well on a Chromebook, but Google knows the vast majority of their users aren’t using ChromeOS. Why not offer a more functional version of Hangouts for them?
It Took an Outsider to Make Hangouts Usable
it's cool that google keeps making Hangouts for desktop worse and worse
— POE DAMERIN (@kernetin) May 23, 2015
Common Hangouts isn’t perfect. It’s currently only offered in Chrome, and Csanaky doesn’t really recommend anyone use it.
Even though it works perfectly with current Hangouts, I wouldn’t recommend to rely on the extension too much. Google will change just few things and it will get all broken.
So Google’s users just have to do what they’ve been doing for years: wait for Google to offer native desktop clients, and complain. Constantly.
Is it me, or is the new Google Voice integration with Hangouts (on desktop, not mobile) absolutely impossible to navigate?
— Jill E Duffy (@jilleduffy) June 17, 2015
Complain about Hangouts, or my article, in the comments below. While we’re at it, let’s talk about other worthwhile Hangouts apps for the desktop – if you know of any.