We all chat, but not all of use the same chat programs. Yoomba aims to get us all on the same page and add calling functionality in the process. It's a free software utility that sits on top of e-mail clients, including Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, Outlook Express, and Yahoo, and turns your e-mail client into a phone or instant-messenger application, allowing you to call or IM anyone you e-mail. Sounds brilliant, right? It is, in theory. In practice, Yoomba exhibits all the telltale signs of a first attempt (view screenshot gallery).
Signing up was easy, and we liked that Yoomba understands this is a tough concept to wrap your head around. The onscreen instructions use graphics to explain how Yoomba turns your e-mail client into an instant-messaging program. We inputted the corporate e-mail address we wanted Yoomba to use for integration, and the 6.65MB application installed in less than a minute.
A small buddy-list window with all of our Outlook contacts launched automatically. We were quite peeved when a list of everyone we had ever e-mailed or received an e-mail from appeared with a button asking us to "invite all to Yoomba." This list even included the addresses we've never responded to, including alerts from Chase Bank and newsletters from Snapfish. Yoomba's attempt to send all of our contacts an invite is a marketing ploy at best, but to its credit, you can uncheck the boxes of contacts you don't want to invite.
Once we were up and running, each of our e-mail contacts had small blue (chat) and orange (voice) buttons next to their names for making chat and voice contact from within Outlook. If a contact isn't yet on Yoomba, you can send them an IM message that will invite them via e-mail. Then they can decide whether to download the program. We wish Yoomba put a different icon next to the names of those who already have the software (500,000 and counting); as is, you can't tell whether a contact is on Yoomba until you send them an instant message. We also had a problem finding other Yoomba users; you can't search a directory of members as you can with other instant-messaging programs.
We IMed one Yoomba friend without any issues, and we liked having the option to change the font and color of the text in the message window. We did notice, however, that when we signed into the same account on two computers and messaged with a friend, our messages weren't sent. Yoomba maintains that you can only sign in to one machine at a time. If you sign in on a second PC, the messages will only be sent to the first one you signed into.
We attempted to make a voice call to one of our Yoomba contacts by clicking the orange button in Outlook. The Yoomba application launched with a Skype-like user interface. Unfortunately, when we tried making a call from our Windows XP desktop, the call halted after three rings. We attempted to make Yoomba calls on two other computers (one with Vista and one with XP) connected to a public Wi-Fi network, and we encountered the same problem until we put both of those PCs on another Wi-Fi network. Finally, we got one call to go through, and we were able to hear our buddy clearly, but there was a noticeable delay. Yoomba attributes these connectivity problems to TLS (Transport Layer Security) and notes that a successful VoIP connection will depend on the network you're connected to. According to the company, these items are being addressed in the next release of the software due out in early fall.
We also tried out the application on Gmail using a laptop running Windows Vista. The setup process was just as easy; however, Yoomba integrates differently with Web e-mail and puts the blue and orange buttons next to each subject line instead of in the preview pane of Outlook. Hitting one of these buttons should have launched the desktop application to make a call, but it only brought up a log-in screen. Integrating Yoomba with the Yahoo Mail beta failed, and we were forced to use Yahoo's old mail interface.
Though Yoomba seems compelling on paper, we were left with more problems than solutions. Though we liked the service's e-mail integration and ease of installation, the calling and chatting kinks need to be worked out in order for Yoomba to take off.
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