AOL’s Thoroughly Modern AIM

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I use my AIM instant-messaging account every day, but I can’t remember the last time I used the AIM software. Instead, I use iChat, Meebo, Imo.IM, and other third-party clients that work on AIM’s network. AIM’s app itself has long felt like software that goes all the way back to 1997 and has been getting more bloated ever since. Which it has.

aimbotUntil now. AOL has launched a preview of an all-new AIM, and it has very little to do with the creaky old one except that it works on the same IM network. It’s so all-new that AOL even dumped its venerable “running man” stick-figure—who, let’s face it, screams “Old AOL that used to send us trial discs”—in favor of a hip little bot as its mascot.

Here are some of the major features of the Windows and Mac clients, most of which are new:

  • The Windows and Mac versions sport a streamlined new paned interface that’s reminiscent of Twitter’s iPad version, with a vertical toolbar and panes that show your buddies and chats. It’s clean, straightforward, and nice.
  • AIM now delivers IMs that people sent when you were offline and retains your entire IM history, giving it a real-time/non-real-time feel that’s vaguely reminiscent of Facebook messaging.
  • It lets you do group chatting on the fly by IMing with multiple other people; they, too, will get the IMs whether or not they’re logged into AIM at the moment.
  • It displays images and videos right inside a chat session’s word balloons.
  • It has one-to-one video chat (but not group video chat like AOL’s AIM AV service.)
  • It supports Facebook Chat and Google Talk as well as the AIM network.
  • It’s dumped the Lifestream feature that tried to thread together all your status updates into one stream, but there are separate panes for Facebook and Twitter updates. For some reason the Twitter one isn’t working for at the moment, and these panes are only for incomingupdates, not your own ones.
  • It’s got a (non-customizable) news section with content from AOL properties such as the Huffington Post, Engadget, and TechCrunch.

Besides the Windows and Mac clients—which are preview editions that haven’t replaced their predecessors yet—AOL is launching a new version of the browser-based AIM, plus new iPhone and Android apps. It doesn’t have any immediate plans to update the iPad app.

The single best thing about the new AIM isn’t any one feature: It’s that it finally feels like it was designed in the 21st century. I’m not sure whether I’ll stick with it, but I’m going to give it a try—and given AIM’s history in recent years, that’s an accomplishment in itself.

This article originally appeared on Technologizer…