What exactly is the “Important service announcement” for?
A few days ago, Microsoft accidently started sending an “Important service announcement” to Hotmail-based Windows Live IDs informing them that they had to change their Live ID e-mail address. There’s been plenty of coverage over at the MessengerSays blog, Windows Live Team blog, Neowin, LiveSide, and others, but there was no explanation given for what this feature is normally used for.
Confusion isn’t at all unexpected given how the message is presented. The message comes from firstname.lastname@example.org with “Windows Live(TM) Messenger Service Staff” as the display name of the contact. It then goes on to tell you that “As part of a recent system enhancement, we need you to change your e-mail address to continue signing in to the Windows Live(TM) Messenger Service” and then provides a link to http://support.microsoft.com/gp/Messenger/.
Just given the language used, this should most likely trigger warning bells in most people’s heads expecting a phishing scam. However, in this particular instance, it is a completely legitimate message. Firstly, @microsoft.com Live IDs are reserved (more on this later) and can’t be faked or manually registered like typical e-mail domains on Messenger/Live ID. Secondly, although this feature has existed for many years , the “recent system enhancement” would typically be indicating a new corporate/enterprise roll-out (more on this later too). Finally, if you visit the link presented, it will provide you with a partial typical explanation of why you’re receiving this and what to do — well, or at least provide some clues.
So what is it?
As mentioned in the Help & Support article which is linked in the message, you would typically get this message if your had an existing Windows Live ID registered on a domain which recently was registered to use Office Communications Server (or the former name, Live Communications Server) and the Public IM Connectivity (PIC) feature was turned on. When this function is engaged, that domain is now an EASI (e-mail name as sign in name) domain — users cannot register new Live IDs on that domain directly and users are now forced to use Office Communicator to sign in to those Live IDs through their local Office Communications Server. Therefore existing Live IDs need their e-mail address changed to continue working on the normal Live Messenger client.
Only Hotmail users
So why did Hotmail users see this? I’m afraid only Microsoft can answer that with the details, but it most certainly was just an accidental configuration change. Note that Hotmail addresses are also reserved in the system, so I do suspect that played a role in this small faux pas. Additionally (note: I didn’t receive this message myself to know with complete certainty), within normal conditions Hotmail addresses are not changeable, so no real damage should have occurred from this message going out.
Not the first time
This isn’t the first time Live Messenger has had server-based problems with similar functionality. Back on Friday the 13th of June of last year (2008), anyone using the former 9.0 beta client would have seen the Office logo () under the display picture in each conversation window (more here). This is exactly what you see when someone signs into the .NET Messenger Service using Office Communicator and one of these EASI domains setup for Public IM (example in Messenger 2009 shown here on the right).
Finally, I’d like to point out that this feature makes use of the same “changing ID” page that is used by the normal Windows Live ID site which broke at the end of last year. I’ve yet to be able to get a full confirmation that the latest problems around that page are corrected, but it’s interesting to note that the problems surrounding changing a Live ID e-mail address affect both customers and enterprise users.