Test Drive Apple’s New Messages App Before Mountain Lion Launches

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Members of the general public will have to wait a few more months before they can play with Mountain Lion proper, but one of the update’s newest features is ready for a taste of the limelight. Apple has just made their revamped Messages app available for everyone to download, but don’t go looking for it in the OS X App Store.

Since Messages is still in beta, interested users will have to download it from Apple’s website instead. Be warned though — Messages will only work if your Mac is running OSX Lion with all of the recent latest in place, so all of you still chugging along with Snow Leopard (like yours truly) will have to sit this one out.

If you choose to take the plunge, you’ll find that Messages replaces iChat almost completely, though Apple notes that iChat services will continue to work. While Messages retains support for all the major messaging protocols, the biggest addition to the mix here is seamless support for iMessages. Conversations over iMessage that are initiated from a Mac carry over to any other iOS device that’s tied to the the same Apple ID, which makes for an easier transition as users bounce between their myriad Apple products.

Messages also allows for dead-simple multimedia transfers between users on Macs and their iOS compatriots, as dragging images and video into a conversation sends it over to your buddy post-haste. FaceTime calls can also be initiated from within Messages, though The Verge notes that FaceTime will still exist as a separate application. If Apple could somehow fold SMS support into the app we could be looking at a real winner, but these are early days for Messages — hopefully the best is yet to come.