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There. Google has done it, again. That is, rolling out over-drastic changes to a product I’m already very familiar with to the point that it is alienating. And this time, they even changed the whole product, not bothering to stack the updates with an old brand.

In an effort to push Google+ to more of it’s users, Google has rendered Google Talk obsolete in favor of Hangouts—Google+’s video chat feature. I’m not allergic to change but it seems to me that Google has been pushing “social” to their users too much that they dropped the non-social use-cases.

My review for the Hangouts Android client says it all1:

I understand that Google made a lot of improvements for hangouts but they forgot their basics. From Talk to hangouts they removed status messages/indicators and the quick list of people who are “online”. Inconvenient as we use Talk in the workplace. Moreover, they now list your contacts based on your most recent conversations. Hardly useful if I just want to leave a message to someone not-very-recent. And that piles up fast since I use Talk a lot.

At work, when I switched my provided workstation from Windows to Linux, I had problems choosing a client for GTalk, since Google does not support a Linux Talk client. Sure the web interface that comes with GMail is OS-agnostic but it also comes with the inconvenience that my chats are all in a single tab and I can’t drag them around my workspaces. I would’ve tried Gwibber, the one that comes by default with Ubuntu, but I was too lazy to hurdle the set-up.

In the end, I settled for the official Google Talk Chrome plug-in. It did not fit all my needs but it does what the web client does without having to be in a single tab and I can lug it around my workspaces. In fact, if only I did not have to open Chrome just to sign-in/sign-out to it, it would’ve felt like a native desktop app.

That is, until Google decided to force feed Hangouts to everyone. I first encountered how Google does Hangouts via the Chrome plug-in. And I found it plagued with the same problems I later found in Android. Being that I cannot see a list of all my contacts via the plug-in, I now always have a GMail tab running at the far-left of my Google Chrome window for starting conversations2.

For a long time, I managed to resist Android’s nags of updating the Google Talk app in my phone to Hangouts. I even set the Talk app not to auto-update. And then came the most recent Android update from Sony. I should say that I’ve been loving Android updates ever since my XPeria Z first prompted me for one3. But this most recent update had the audacity to replace Talk with Hangouts. Argh. Google wins.

I’m now looking for another GTalk (as I will persistently call it) client in Android. I’ve tried Trillian, the first IM client I used, from way back when class presentations where planned via Yahoo Messenger conferences and not Facebook Groups. Unfortunately, Google won’t let me log-in with it; apparently the Trillian app does not hit the Google log-in servers directly but, rather, some “gateway” server which does the actual log-in for you. Google sees the IP of these gateway servers and labels them as suspicious sign-in attempts. Right now, still looking for another one.

The Google Score

Google, Google, I still think you are among those who tackle the most interesting problems and research topics but I think you’re pushing social too much into the face of your users.

Google products I still love:

  • Google Chrome
  • GMail
  • Android
  • Google Docs
  • Google Maps

Google products which I think has gone astray:

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Reader (or, rather, what they did with it; it was fine until they sent it the way of dinosaurs)
  • Google Talk Clients: Chrome and Android

And with the talks of Google’s famous 20% time perk dying going rounds, it really feels like Google has changed. A lot.

  1. Incidentally, the first app review I ever gave, out of pure ire. []
  2. Or hangouts, as Google would now want you to call them. []
  3. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much to update with my old Samsung Galaxy Y, so not much fanfare there. []

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