When Software Gets Worse

Album Cover: Life After Death

"While your gun's raisin', mine is blazin'."
The Notorious B.I.G. / I Love the Dough

Posted on April 12, 2004 11:38 PM in Computers
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

For some reason AOL has a knack for getting involved with software projects that take more steps backward than they do forward. I've written about the shortcomings of Winamp 5 here before, and doubtless have bashed Netscape browsers many a time, especially version 6.0.

The AOL screw-up of the moment, though, is AOL Instant Messenger 5.5. Ever since I started using AIM many years ago, I've always enjoyed being on the cutting edge of their development – routinely downloading their beta versions long before they were available as stable releases. That trend continued for quite some time, until recently when they made the jump from version 5.2 to 5.5.

One of the most annoying "features" of the new version is the inclusion of video ads at the top of the application. Not only do I have no control over these ads (at least in terms of when they appear, etc.), but if I make the mistake of even hovering over them while they are active my browser is opened up with more information. This has brought my frustration level high above average levels on many occasion. In addition, they have literally taken steps backward in terms of sound management. In version 5.2, I am able to say that I only want to hear a sound when a new incoming message arrives. In 5.5, this is not possible. Their sound setup seems to take the all-or-nothing approach, leaving me out in the cold in terms of customization.

The main reason I've continued to use AIM over the years is that it always seems stable to me. I can't really explain it, but some applications seem like they are "built tough," and others seem flaky. Run any application that was written in Java and you'll quickly understand what I mean. The HotJava Browser is a perfect example. AIM has always held the edge, personally, over MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. Even after jumping on the Trillian bandwagon for a while, I still have to say that AIM takes the cake in terms of perceived stability.

With the frustrating "advancements" of version 5.5, though, I am beginning to think I may have to wait for Google's predicted IM client to get another shot at a clear winner in the world of instant messaging. If it wasn't for ET Planet's AIM Archives I probably wouldn't have been able to regress back to version 5.2 and enjoy AIM in its pre-tarnished state.

It really is a shame when software moves backwards. It is hard to imagine that anyone with a vested interest in the development of a product would ever allow it to regress. Then again, when an application is managed by a company whose future is sketchy at best and whose products consistently fall short of the bar, maybe it isn't so hard to imagine afterall.


Ryan on August 03, 2005 at 12:11 AM:

So much for the Google IM idea...


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