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Google IM (almost) gets the message, users say

Bloggers are already buzzing with critiques and accolades for the just-released beta version of the instant-messaging software.

The blogosphere is abuzz about Google's new foray into the instant-messaging realm.

Message boards are teeming with tips and gripes, and scores of screenshots have gone up since Google released a beta version of its Talk software late Tuesday. The free service is billed as a tool for sending instant messages and engaging in computer-to-computer voice chats.

Across the Web, many consumers hailed the software's quick download time, which takes a few seconds over broadband and about three minutes over a typical modem, according to the Google Talk Web site. They also applauded its minimalism. Poll

What's your take on Google Talk--does the world need another IM service?

Yes. Sign me up now!
Maybe. Let's look at the details.
No. It just adds to the clutter.

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"Missing are the many encumbrances that bog down the competing IM experiences," blogger Brad Hill said in a review at the Unofficial Google Weblog. "Google's debut entry in this field is characteristically breezy and uncluttered. There is no splash panel with news; no stock tabs or online radio. There is no...(ahem) box."

But Hill, who has authored several Internet-related books, including "Google for Dummies," said the company needs to work quickly to flesh out the service. "The lack of group chatting will turn people away," he said.

Hill also deemed it "peculiar" that the service hinges on having a Gmail account, which still works by invitation only--albeit those invitations are now easier to obtain. Google now lets people sign up for a Gmail invitation code using their mobile phones. A general Gmail tutorial said the service is still in a limited test mode, and the company does not know when the service will become "more widely available."

Other reviewers took swipes at the service's limited features.

"Welcome to the Stone Age of instant messaging!" Ken Fisher, a Ph.D. student, wrote at PC resource site Ars Technica. His review deemed Google's service "Spartan" for its failure to allow file transfers and group chats, and for its lack of emoticons and "skins," or customized, decorative graphics.

"Heck, Google Talk doesn't even feature a box to let you search for things, as rival products from AOL, MSN and Yahoo do," Danny Sullivan, editor at Search Engine Watch, wrote in an article.

Google's software currently works only with Windows, which has generated criticism from some bloggers. But because the service is based on the Jabber open-source standard, users can also run it on Jabber-compliant programs like Apple Computer's iChat, GAIM, Adium and Trillian Pro.

Google said on its developer information page that it plans to work out agreements with other IM and voice over Internet Protocol providers so that "a user on one service can communicate with users on another service without needing to sign up for, or sign in with, each service."

Right now, the service is what one blogger has called "a bit of a walled garden," because Google Talk customers can't communicate with users of rivals like AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger or Microsoft's MSN Messenger.

Google declined to comment. (Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story.)

One contributor to a thread on message board Slashdot said he was hopeful that Google's open-protocol approach would prompt other services to allow such interoperability.

"I yearn for the day when I have only one IM ID," the contributor wrote. "People who like Yahoo can use their client and YIM ID; people who run their own Jabber server can use whatever client they want."

CNET's Elinor Mills contributed to this report.