Monday, August 12, 2013

Finally Giving the Google Hangouts Chrome Extension a Try

I’ve been a long time user of Trillian (even pre-Astra) for handling all my IM chatter since I’m on so many IM networks. However, lately I’ve found that Google Talk (or whatever they want to call the Googel IM service these days) no longer plays very nicely with non-Google chat clients. The problem I would encounter (which Google has confirmed is a bug, but hasn’t done anything to fix it, and it apparently even affects the old, no longer supported Google Talk desktop client as well) is that incoming IMs (especially for already open/ongoing chats) only get delivered to the device/client you were last IM-ing from. So if I chat a bit on my mobile device because I walked away from my desktop, but then return to my desk and don’t actually chat with my desktop client (Trillian Astra) again, new incoming IMs from other people continue to go to my mobile device (which I of course now have silenced, because I’m busy working at my desktop again). After reading through a ton of Google support threads where people have been complaining about this and asking for help for nearly three years, I bit the bullet and moved to the solution (although I’d call it a workaround) that Google Support suggests—ditch all non-Google clients and use the Hangouts extension for Chrome on your desktop devices (and the Mobile OS Google client for your mobile devices). This means that the cheese stands alone (in this case Google Chat), while all my other public IM accounts are still managed in Trillian Astra. Well, except for my work IM, Microsoft Lync (2013 client on Lync 2010 server, soon to be Lync 2013 server, yeah! ;) but I’m okay with that, since Lync gives me a ton more functionality than any of the public IM services and associated clients/web interfaces do.

So far, I’ve been impressed with the IM “2.0” features of Google Hangouts. The audio/video chat supported by Hangouts, including the neat extras (like the silly hats and backgrounds) are fun to play with, but the IM “1.0” (basic “just” text chat—I know, I’m a troglodyte) features are a bit lacking. Status indicators are really deprecated in it (to the point of being easily overlooked—a one pixel green line under a person’s profile pic is a bit too subtle to mean “online”—especially for the people I know that have green as part of the bottom edge of their profile pic). I find how sticky the hangouts chat windows are (attaching to any edge of your screen they get close to) and difficulty getting them to let go of said docked edges (especially on my Windows 8 tablet) also to be a bit unfriendly. Sometimes I just want to float the chat window in a general part of my second monitor Google—I don’t need you to tidy up my desktop layout for me, Mom. I’ll clean my room when I feel like it. Finally, not being able to just launch hangouts on system startup is a real drag. Because hangouts is a chrome extension (and because they didn’t think this bit through, in my opinion) you must launch the Chrome browser (set to auto sign-in with your Google account) in order for hangouts to start. Really Google? I mean Chrome is great and all (well, except on Windows 8—can we get pinch zoom support please?), but the first thing I do when I get to work isn’t open up a web browser of any type. It’s opening up my various communication tools and catching up on the 10-50 message I got overnight. When I have some more time, I’m going to see if I can pass in some arguments to somehow start chrome as a minimized or background app, instead of the kludge I’m using now (just put Chrome in the startup applications, and then manually close the window once it’s up and running), or even a script that will just close the foreground chrome app after ten seconds or so.

I’ll give a more complete review of Google Hangouts after I’ve lived with it for a few weeks. So far I give it a 6 out of 10. A bit better than average, but not much (for comparison, Trillian Astra get’s a 7 of 10, and Microsoft Lync gets an 8 of 10—if Lync ever gets spell check, they may be approaching 10 of 10 territory).

:( Sad-Face Update:

ipod_hangouts-DENIEDI wanted to install Google Hangouts on my iPod touch and was sternly and rudely told I couldn’t because “This App is Incompatible With This iPod Touch. This app requires a front facing camera.” Umm… Google, you do know that some (dare I say most) people use chat tools to text chat, not video chat? At least most people I know, anyway. I mean, sure, tell me “your old and busted Touch won’t work because it only supports up to IOS 5.1, and we require IOS 6” and I’d grumble but accept it—but here you deny me the ability to use an app because my device won’t support one very minor, unnecessary feature of said app. Shame on you, Google. Shame. Were is the shame-face emoji… oh, wait, I need Hangouts to use that, which you’ve denied me! ;p