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Messages is a good idea, but is not ready for prime time


It's rare that I can honestly say that Apple software has given me a headache. The new beta for Messages has left me and other members of TUAW staff reaching for aspirin and lamenting that this is nowhere near ready for prime time. That's understandable, given the beta status, but it's still frustrating.

"Setup was easy, and I like the idea of being reachable on my Mac, but controlling where the messages end up is confusing at this point," Kelly Hodgkins, the first staff member to try out Messages, said. The very last point she makes is one that is going to be the sticking point for a lot of people. Check out the gallery below for shots of the program in action -- and make sure you do a reboot before using Messages, or it will not work.

Gallery: Messages for Mac | 5 Photos

Messages has a hard time directing a message to its proper destination when people have multiple devices in play. A conversation between myself and Steve Sande went to all the places Messages should go, while test messages from Kelly went only to my iPad and iPhone. A message from Erica Sadun just went to the iPad. Erica and Kelly couldn't message each other at all until Kelly used Erica's phone number, and that only went to her iPhone. In other words, a big headachy mess.

When Steve sent me a test image on the Mac, it took several minutes for it to go through -- showing as successful on his end when it wasn't appearing on mine. Then he got an error message and the picture began flashing between an empty green bubble and the iPad shot he sent.

There is a FaceTime button in the chats, but instead of launching a video chat inside Messages, it kicks you out to the separate FaceTime app. "It should have FaceTime integrated in so there's only one messaging app to rule them all," Steve said. (This may well be a feature that has to wait for the full release of Mountain Lion.)

Steve liked that he's able to message his wife without having to switch between his Mac and iPhone. But, he added, going into full screeen is ridiculous on a large monitor. It looked rather silly on my 11-inch MacBook Air as well.

And Erica Sadun's thoughts? "Betalicious," she proclaimed, "with lots of iChat crap still tucked in." She thought the client was ugly, and I have to agree. I also thought the program was bloated and unwieldy. Instead of combining all the messaging programs into one window, it still has separate windows for Messages, AIM, etc.

Messages, like the rest of Mountain Lion, is the logical next step in Apple developing its instant message programs and making them available across a lot of its devices. But like last year's FaceTime beta, there are a lot of bugs to be worked out, and I wish Apple had taken a cue from Adium in designing Messages. If you do plan to stick with the program, Erica will be offering some tips and tricks on making it useful.

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