Microsoft announces they’re retiring Messenger applications, but what does that mean?
As was originally reported yesterday, it was confirmed today on both the Skype Blog and Inside Windows Live blog that the “Windows Live Messenger client would be “retired” worldwide (except for China).
The real question is what does that actually mean in practice? The answer: I don’t really know, but I have some guesses.
As most of you reading this are already aware, Microsoft has retired clients (and subsequent protocol versions) before. The most recent being the 2009 client, which of course you can still sign in with some modification. My suspicion is that, at least initially, the transition will be implemented like a forced upgrade but instead of demanding to install to a newer Messenger version, it would “upgrade” to the latest Skype version instead. With that in mind, I would postulate that the service itself would continue to exist (especially given China will still be using it), just only officially usable using the Skype client and other clients would just continue working.
As the .NET Messenger or “MSN” service is a top-tier instant messaging service on the Internet, there are thousands of third-party clients and libraries for just about every platform conceivable, mobile applications (both for dumb and smartphones, some with telecommunication companies charging a monthly fee for usage), various gateways, integration with Yahoo Messenger, Lync IM Federation access, bots, and many other projects and services. Skype is a closed system with only a handful of third-parties having any sort of support, and most (or all) are using either the Skype client itself or SkypeKit in the background. Are we really to believe all this Messenger support will disappear into the abyss in under six months with no replacement? Even MSN Direct had over a year warning before it was shut down.
Further, there’s also multiple connection methods to Messenger, both through their own protocol, HTTP access and more recently, XMPP. Would they all be blocked or would some keep operating? Involving the latter, will the built-in “Messaging” in Windows 8 and Windows Phone cease to operate?
I’m also not clear on what this will mean for ad contracts for Messenger or “official support” for older versions of Live Essentials still shipping with PCs in the store today. Advertising in Skype so far has been pretty minimal, but I expect that will change quick.
If you haven’t used Skype for instant messaging before, it does have some fairly unique features such as message editing, full message history with synchronization with multiple computers and devices, copy/paste of messages containing a proper timestamp and source (this is more useful than it sounds), word notification(s), and of course the features you already know about (voice, video, group chats, sharing of screens via video, etc.).
What it doesn’t have: animated display pictures, custom emoticons, font colours, standardized format to access the chat history (ie. something you can access outside of Skype), winks, nudges, voice clips, scenes, a third-party scripting platform* (like Messenger Plus scripts/plugins), idle status indication, Hotmail/Outlook.com support/indicator, requests for remote assistance, free SMS, games, photo sharing, et al. Basically you’re starting from scratch on a new client.
One thing I’m quite concerned about is how they plan on upgrading people to this new Skype world. Although I think some people will be able to cope with the interface (and icon) change, there’s plenty of examples of those who have kept important photos in their display pictures store, those custom emoticons they’ve been using off and on for five years, and the random minesweeper flags game will all just disappear over night. Given the past history on forcing updates on a whim, I really hope they make an effort to make this more smooth and less painful.
What this means for this blog
Assuming there’s still a service to connect to, hopefully myself or others can get Messenger operating again once Microsoft starts forcing Skype upon the masses. Personally, besides my old and in need of an update (but still useful) Skype Call Button, I’ve been working on some other Skype-related software for the past six months that hopefully I’ll be releasing here soon to better ease some of the annoying quirks of the current Skype client. It’s my goal to continue and perhaps expand on what I’ve been doing for Messenger for the past 11 years on Skype, but we’ll have to see how things go.
*Skype has an API of its own. Unfortunately when you use it to access conversations, it has a really nasty bug.