At a Glance
With its sleek interface, connections to all the major IM services, and quick performance, this Web service could replace your desktop app.
No Web-based instant messaging application can exactly replicate the experience of using a desktop software client--but in the case of Meebo, that may be a good thing. This Web service offers most of the features that your desktop application does, without requiring you to download any extra software. Meebo has a sleek interface, provides access to most IM networks you're likely to need, and lets you start using it within seconds of firing up the Web page.
From its home page at Meebo.com, Meebo offers access to AOL's AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, and MSN Messenger. (The service also lets you connect via iChat, ICQ, and Jabber, though it doesn't link to them directly from the home page.) To connect to an IM service, you simply enter your existing screen name and password in the spaces provided. You can connect simultaneously to as many services as you'd like.
You then jump to a personalized Meebo page that tells you which services you're connected to. Your buddy list appears in a window on the right side of the page; if you're connected to more than one service, Meebo merges all of your buddy lists into one. Each buddy is marked with an icon denoting which service the person is using; and when you click to send a message, Meebo automatically connects you to the compatible service.
Messages appear in pop-up windows on the Meebo page. You can undock both the buddy list window and the message window from the Meebo page, which makes it look and feel more as if you were using a desktop application. (You'll have to disable your pop-up blocker to do so.) But if you navigate away from the Meebo.com page, your IM session will terminate.
Like all Web-based IM services, Meebo has some difficulty notifying you when a new message arrives. To make the browser tab blink, or to set a flashing icon in your system tray, you'd have to download software--which defeats the primary purpose of using a Web-based service, so Meebo doesn't offer this option. If you're on the Meebo page or you have the message window in view, you'll probably see a new message appear. If you have the window minimized, the text in the title bar will change to display the name of the message sender and a brief snippet of the message, but this signal is easy to miss if you're working on something else. You can receive audio notification of new messages, however, which makes them much easier to notice.
Among Meebo's nice touches are a typing indicator (so you can see if someone is responding to a message you've sent) and a time stamp (so you know when messages arrived). The service's software also lets you mouse over names on your buddy list to see how long they've been connected.
Meebo doesn't require registration, but you get some added functionality if you do choose to register. One extra is a single sign-on for all of your IM accounts. Meebo allows registered users to save chat logs, store conversations, and add personalized touches such as icons and skins to the application.
Overall, Meebo gives you a handy way to access your IM account when you're away from your PC. And it's so easy to use that you may want to consider it as a replacement for your bloated desktop client.