Five Ways To Fix Windows Messenger

Want to make Windows work better? OS expert and veteran computer author Gregg Keizer shows how to improve Microsoft's instant messaging client.
By Gregg Keizer

One of my least favorite parts of Windows is the heavily promoted AOL alternative MSN Messenger (which goes by the name Windows Messenger in Windows XP and .Net Messenger Service on its Web site).

I don't much care for this instant messaging and videophone client -- although I use it, since some friends and associates insist. But because it's so closely wedded to the OS, and found on nearly every PC, it's worth our time digging up some Messenger dirt. (See tip #8 in "Windows XP: 10 Things To Do First" if you want the secret instructions for how to uninstall the thing altogether -- Ed.)

Beware add-ons bearing ads. Just as browsers accept plug-ins, the newest edition of Windows Messenger for XP (version 4.6) accepts add-ons written to Microsoft's Messenger API (application programming interface). But so far, the only one available is a Microsoft grab bag that slaps on some stuff from MSN Messenger, such as real-time alerts of new Hotmail messages, access to chat rooms, and text messaging to cell phones and pagers.

This gift horse deserves dental inspection, however: The price of admission is one of MSN Messenger's nastier characteristics -- ad banners.

Fortunately, you can uninstall this add-on from Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs module. (Note: if you already have Windows Messenger 4.5, resist the update to 4.6 for as long as possible; 4.6 strips out some of 4.5's features, such as Hotmail notification, and puts them in the add-on, a not-so-subtle way to make you look at advertisements.)

Fire up file sharing. Neither MSN Messenger nor Windows Messenger for XP include file-sharing skills akin to other instant messengers' such as ICQ or Yahoo Messenger. (File sharing is not the same as file transfer, which MSN/Windows Messenger does allow; the former lets you designate a directory or folder on your drive that you let your IM buddies access. Think of it as the IM equivalent of Napster.)

Happily, a free and sweet add-on does the trick. Download Messenger File Share -- it works with both MSN Messenger and Windows Messenger -- and start sharin'.

Record the rap. Need proof that your business buddy really said what she said while you were both typing madly in Messenger? Microsoft's IM client doesn't automatically log all chats, as do some others (most notably ICQ), so you'll have to remember to do this yourself. Once you've initiated a chat, select File/Save As, give the log file a name, and click the Save button. You can later pull up the resulting text file in a word processor or Windows Notepad or WordPad.

Don't step on my lines. Messenger -- in both Windows and Windows XP versions -- has a nifty feature often overlooked: a typing indicator. When a buddy's typing a message on his machine, you'll see a note to that effect at the bottom of the chat window, as in "Gregg is typing a message." It's the best way to make sure conversational threads don't get tangled.

Skins, sorta. MSN and Windows Messenger are behind the times: Simply put, they can't be skinned. Unlike forward-thinking IMs like Trillian and Yahoo Messenger (or Windows Media Player), MSN/Windows Messenger can't change its look with a few clicks of the mouse. But you can personalize Messenger a bit by modifying the background image.

Rename the lvback.gif file in your Messenger folder (Program Files\Messenger) as something else, like lvbackold.gif; create a new graphic -- best if it's the same size, 160 pixels wide by 140 pixels high -- and name it lvback.gif, then move it to the Messenger directory. Relaunch Messenger, and the new background should appear.

This column was first published on WinPlanet, an internet.com site.






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