I know I’ve been asking about an update for the Google Talk client (not the Gadget, not Gmail Chat; the actual application that one can download and install on a PC). I’ve been wondering for a long time if such an update would ever be issued. Yesterday, my question was answered. Yesterday, Google released Google Talk Labs Edition.
It is most certainly not what I had in mind for an update. Far from improving existing features, the new release actually removes features. Specifically, voice chat and file transfers are gone in the Labs version. It adds group chat and enhanced emoticons like Gmail Chat and the Gadget have had for months (plus tabs, which only the Gadget has right now), but the two removed features make it no different from a standalone version of the Gadget.
What was Google’s objective in releasing this new version? I have a feeling it was merely to let users know that the Google Talk client is not dead. The lack of additions to — and in fact, removal of — what were core features unique to the desktop client tells me, at least, that it’s just a version intended to increase confidence in the continuation of the Google Talk brand.
Personally, I already use Pidgin for my IM needs. Neither file sharing nor voice chat are supported in Pidgin’s Google Talk setup — the former because of an incompatibility, the latter because Pidgin doesn’t have the code to do it yet — so I won’t miss anything if I switch to the new Labs client. I don’t have any friends who use the official client, either. Everyone I know on Google Talk uses either Pidgin, Finch (text-only Pidgin), Gmail Chat, or the Talk Gadget. No feature loss for me, realistically.
In principle, I would like Google to continue to expand the capabilities of Google Talk, not reduce them. It is possible to do voice chat within Flash applications, at the very least, and other Web-based IM services (like Meebo) already have audio and video chat capabilities. I would expect Google to be an industry leader in developing efficient, feature-rich applications for the Internet, and usually they deliver. (Witness Gmail, Google Reader, Google Docs, et al.) Google Talk seems to be a rare exception (along with the badly neglected Google Browser Sync Firefox extension).
Oh well, at least I have my health (and a perfectly fine means of using Google Talk without using Google Talk proper). What do you think of this new release?
Update (04/07): Philipp Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped had an idea regarding why the new client is what it is. See my take and get a link in this post.