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AIM 6 quick impression: unimpressive

Is the new downloadable AIM client better than Web-based IM? Not really.

Do we really need IM clients anymore? Google and Yahoo are embedding chat functions into their Web-based e-mail apps, and there are services such as Meebo that let you connect to multiple IM networks at once from within a browser. Any new IM software is going to have to offer a lot of flash and sizzle to make it more compelling than a Web-based client.

So how does the new AIM 6 stack up? I've been using it all day and I can't find too much that's compelling in it. The most important feature is its offline capability--if somebody sends you a message while your client isn't running, AIM 6 will let you pick it up when you come back online. That's actually pretty interesting, as it blurs the line between e-mail and chat.

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Other AIM features are nice but not revolutionary. AIM 6 lets you group your chats together into one tabbed window. It lets you store as many as 1,000 contacts in your buddy list. It lets you log your chats. It integrates with AOL's Skype competitor, AIM Phoneline.

AIM 6 also adds eye candy--you can modify chat backgrounds and icon sets. Although when I tried AIMing buddies who weren't using the new client, they didn't see the embellishments.

AIM 6 also integrates into AOL's social network, AIM Pages. In fact, as Pete Cashmore notes on Mashable, AIM Pages was seeded with AIM profiles, so users are now part of this new social network whether they want to be or not. I do not like the fact that I've been drafted into AIM Pages.

In sum, there doesn't appear to be a compelling reason to upgrade. That's not to say that there's no place for a desktop IM client. Desktop apps tuck out of the way more easily than browser pages, and if you install IM in your start menu, you never have to worry about firing up a Web browser to log on. But just as Web-based e-mail is becoming a serious full-time alternative to client-based email for a lot of people, Web-based instant messaging clients make more sense today than ever.

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