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Review: AIM for Mac Beta

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It’s been four long years since AIM 4.7 for Macintosh was released by AOL.  The screenshots on their product page still show the horizontal pinstripes of the original release of OS X.  The version was old.  Some would say languishing in neglect.  Really, though, since iChat was released in 2002 with Jaguar and featured AIM integration, Mac users have found little cause to turn to the AOL branded alternative.

With programs like Adium already a favorite among many Mac users and boasting multi-client support, AIM for Mac Beta 1.0 would seem to have a lot of catching up to do.  Their approach, however, does not seem to involve competing head-on with Adium or Apple’s built-in iChat.  Instead, according to statements made by AOL following the release, the aim (haha, ugh) appears to be to nab users who’ve just made the switch from PC to Mac, the idea being that Windows users will be more comfortable with a familiar product.

I’m sure the ads AIM for Mac sports will make users of the Windows product feel right at home, but the “AIM Zones” page that launched in my browser when I signed in for the first time had me eyeing the trash bin before I so much as sent a message.  Still, the option can be turned off, so I fought my destructive urges and took another look.  My eyes were not offended.

Contrary to the Windows release, which I find cluttered and garish, AOL opted for a clean, Mac friendly UI dominated by subdued grays and white.  At first I thought there was no buddy picture display support, but it turns out that if your friends are “Away” or in any state other than “Online,” their buddy icon is replaced by a yellow sticky note.  Not too useful for at-a-glance scanning of who’s online, but not a major flaw, either.

In the Preferences menu, you can customize a number of things, including your preferred browser, mail application, and, interestingly, AIM client.

The look of your message text is also customizeable, and a feature called “My Expressions” lets you change sounds, emoticons, buddy list appearance (to an extent) and your buddy icon.  Not anywhere near as tuneable as Adium, but simpler to modify than iChat.

AIM loses a lot of ground to iChat, however, by not allowing video or audio communication.  It’s possible this functionality will come in a later build of the beta, but for now, AIM for Mac is exclusively an IM application.  Which would be fine if Adium didn’t already do that so well.

In the end, despite not being buggy, unstable, or guilty of any major sins, I quietly unistalled AIM for Mac Beta 1.0. Some may argue that it’s a nice, simple client for people who just want to IM, and nothing more. Really though, iChat can already do that and do it well, and Adium can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, depending on your computer proficiency. Unless upcoming builds find a way to really knock my socks off, I’m taking a pass on AIM for Mac Beta 1.0.