In a move that’s been anticipated for years, Apple has finally merged Messages—the increasingly popular iOS SMS/MMS/iMessaging application—with its Mac app iChat, resulting in a brand new release: Messages for Mac (Free). Carrying a version number of 6.1, the Mac version of Messages includes iChat’s past functionality, including everything from AIM, Yahoo, Google Talk, and Jabber text chats to file transfers, audio chats, and multi-person video chats, while adding support for iMessages and two-person FaceTime calls. Everything’s tied together in a mashed-up interface that’s half iOS and half Mac, starting today in a seemingly feature-complete beta form.
Building on the last version of iChat, Messages presents you with both a traditional Buddies list—basically identical to the old one—and a new iOS-like Messages window that aggregates all of the conversations you’re having in two panes, enabling you to type messages and initiate FaceTime calls from a single app. The Mac version of Messages even merges conversation histories between the Mac and iOS devices where possible, so that you can see as much of your past discussion as possible with a given contact. While the new app’s “everything’s here” approach introduces a little confusion, effectively segregating old services such as group video chats and traditional text messaging into their own place, there’s still plenty of time for Apple to streamline Messages before its official release this summer. Grab it today to see where things are headed.