Second look at Google Talk

I never used Google Talk much. I played around for while when it was first released, but there was little to distinguish it from other instant messaging programs. Everybody I knew was using MSN (a fair few having migrated from ICQ), and I didn’t need the voice calls feature, so after a few weeks of sitting idle in my system tray it was ditched.

Roll on six months and there’ve been improvements. And I’m now finding it pretty good. Firstly there’s the integration with Gmail, which allows quick chats from the browser interface, as well as very easy configuration of ‘friends’ – anybody with a gmail account can be added in one click – that stays in sync with the desktop client. Chat histories are now saved automatically into Gmail (unless you hit the ‘off the record’ button) and are fully searchable, which comes in surprisingly handy when you’re looking for a URL somebody told you, for example. A big thing for me is that GT will also now integrate nicely with my Google Desktop sidebar, meaning I can see who is online at a glance and start a chat with one click.

My favourite feature is quite a small thing, however (and, to be fair, was there at the start). Whenever you don’t have the chat window in focus, the most recent message will pop up at the bottom of the screen for a second or two. It’s amazing how useful this is. If somebody is only saying “back in 2 mins”, it saves the break in activity that would normally result from switching to the chat window. It’s a little feature, but really helps.

There’s a new version (which doesn’t seem to be official as yet, so you may want to wait edit: now officially released) available which adds small avatars, as well as very simple themes for chat windows. The avatars somehow manage not to get in the way, although can be disabled, and add a splash of colour to the otherwise clean-yet-slightly-dull interface. Rolling the mouse over a contact now displays their information in the same way as Gmail, too.

I don’t think it would replace MSN, as I transfer files regularly and make the odd video call, but for everyday chatting I think it works very well. Fast, neat, useful and ad-free. This makes me happy.