I've not found that the Shoutbox detracts from forum activity. I have found it helps to keep the forum itself on topic and that general conversation takes place in the Shoutbox. We simply ask our members not to use the Shoutbox for help and advice that would better benefit our members as a forum post.
If I want an inflated friends list I can go on Facebook. the friends feature in IP.Board always struck me as a little pointless. It didn't really do anything beyond letting me follow their content or bulking up a pointless list in my profile. My friends know they are my friends and they don't need to be on a list to know that. Can somebody point out why a friends list is better than a followers list without philosophical nonsense being attached?
I recall the refresh rate being in place because IPS were getting a lot of support requests relating to it. It can be quite crippling on big boards and can cause problems on shared hosting. The very fact it can be used on IPS's own hosting probably factors into that.
You chaps may not be aware but the Shoutbox has been through quite a few developer because it was too demanding of their time. Since Pete isn't charging for the Shoutbox you might want to cut him some slack and be content in the knowledge that, yes, it is being worked on and it'll be ready when it's ready. I'm sure Pete will share progress as soon as he can.
It's real world usage that helps IPS improve performance so it's a good thing they do release them and that some people do upgrade. I have an IT background and I've yet to see any UAT or system testing that can truly replace real world use.
Defaulting to the app you were in is actually a really bad user experience. My community has IP.Content set as it's default but my members nearly always want to search for or view new content from the forum. The fact the current software defaults to the app you are in results in blank search results pages and several unnecessary 'clicks' of the mouse to actually search the forum. The new method is much better from a user experience point of view, though I would not say the functionality is perfect yet.