After two years of gently suggesting that users switch from the classic Gchat UI to the newer Hangouts platform, Google surprised Gmail users around the world this week by automatically switching everyone over. Luckily, there’s an easy way to get the old Gchat back. Which is a good thing, because Hangouts in Gmail just sucks compared to Gchat.
Why the Hangouts hate? There’s a reason that online professionals love Gchat. In a world of instant message clients that feel like a Tokyo Pop fever dream, Gchat was proudly text-based. Putting functionality first, it co-existed with Gmail without ever trying to overpower it. When you weren’t messaging anyone, Gchat lived as text-based list of your contacts by name nested in the lower left corner of your inbox. When you clicked on a name to message someone, you could send them text, and later initiate a video conference, but that’s it. No emoji, no avatars, no candy-colored chat bubbles, no stickers, no animated GIFs, nothing. It was for sending text messages in real time, and that was it. It was proudly, even defiantly no frills, but it still had some beautiful, understated touches: for example, the lovely way a type-based smiley would straighten itself into an upright position after you typed it.
So for those of us who loved the old Gchat, the new Hangouts pane that replaces it is a fucking nightmare. It’s everything about instant message clients we were trying to get away from, except worse. Hate emoji? Here’s a library of the ugliest ones you’ve ever seen, designed by Google’s resident Fentanyl addict. Did you like how Gchat’s IM windows were small, and kept out of the way so you could concentrate on your email? Now they’re three times as large, and impossible to ignore! And hey, so’s your contact list, requiring you to scroll constantly to find the contact you want. Did you like how you could set yourself as “away” all the time in the old Gchat, so people didn’t bother you when you were working? The new Gchat always tells your contacts you’re free, no matter what! And so on.
Luckily, the new Hangouts is easy to turn off–at least for now. Just click the arrow next to your name, and select ‘Revert to old chat’ from the dropdown. You’ll be asked to confirm, and then Gmail will reload, with the old Gchat replacing the crummy new Hangouts. Like so!
Easy peasy! Unfortunately, don’t expect to be able to choose between Gchat and Hangouts indefinitely: Google has a history of eventually forcing holdouts to use the company’s “new, improved” designs, whether you want to or not.