Google Hangouts is a nice little chat client, and someday it could be unstoppable. But a few things have been holding it back, including a desktop experience that was just OK. Now, Google's released a new app for ChromeOS and Windows users that makes it way, way better.

The new Hangouts gets rid of the annoying row of windows that sit at the bottom of your screen, and morphs them into a vertical strip of circular icons you can move anywhere on the desktop. It's actually a lot like Facebook's Chat Heads. This makes Hangouts a lot more compact—currently it's too easy to drown in chat windows.



We're going from this:

to this:

In the new version, you've just got to hover over someone's chat icon to see a pop-up of the last thing they've said, or click it to expand the full window and talk to them. It's a way more compact—and prettier—solution. In addition, this new version of Hangouts is tricked out to take advantage of the new Google Voice integration, and supports voice calling and all that good stuff. And you don't need a browser open to use it.


Of course it has its own share of problems as well. For instance if more than one of your chat-buddies doesn't have an avatar associated with their account, they'll be impossible to distinguish at a glance. But still, this is a step in the right direction. The new version of Hangouts is available now on the Chrome store for ChromeOS and Windows users. There's no telling of or when it will come to OSX, but hopefully soon. This is a great little revamp. [Chrome Blog]