Why Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger Won't Succeed

On the way to class yesterday, I noticed a few tents setup on one of the busier walkways in the middle of Georgia Tech campus. It was none other than the TechKnowOverload tour, featuring several companies trying to reach college students, including Microsoft, Nvidia and Asus. After class I dropped by the Microsoft tent where they had several laptops setup to try to woo students onto the new Windows Live Messenger beta instant messenging client. That's when it went downhill.

With most students huddling around the iPod accessories tent, I ended up being one of the first students to actually go inside the barren Microsoft tent. I was immediately barraged by a Microsoft lady who started off the conversation asking me what it would take to get me to switch to their IM client and service. Right then, I knew it was on. I let her fire up the application on the laptop and show me some of the features before informing her and her little team that I wasn't their average college student.

Right off the bat, I asked how to remove the ads. Her response was that Windows Live Messenger was an advertisement sponsored service and that removing them wouldn't be possible, similar to AIM she said. I posed an alternative question regarding if the protocol was open so that an application like Gaim would be able to connect to it, and therefore bypass the ads as well. Nope, it's closed. She then tried to convince me that the ads are "cool" and they aren't just pictures and they can actually show movie clips or trailers with sound. Yeah, that's the last thing I want.

As I continued the interrogation, I asked if it was open source and included a detailed API to allow a community to create useful plugins and extend the feature set. She said no really fast, adding that they have done their best to include new features so that plugins and extras wouldn't be necessary. Apparently the profile page is "advanced" and can show the latest feed from your favorite website (I had mentioned a plugin for Adium with this same effect, so she brought it up) or song playing. However, I had referred to songs playing in iTunes, which this messenger cannot do (apparently it can, thanks to the comments).

Saving my best question for last, I let her continue to babble. She mentioned how it had some simple little VoIP features and how that can be extended so you can make global calls using MCI's Web Calling service. Um, Skype anyone? After I shot her down once again, she mentioned how the user interface is completely customizable so you can change the buddy list color and have pictures behind your messaging window. Most IM clients do that and more already. Taking Adium for example, it is possible to change even the message style. I also noticed how horrible the messaging window's UI was. It was just a huge window with even bigger buddy icons/avatars. I like my windows small and tabbed, thank you very much.

One thing she kept bringing up was how there is something called Sharing Folders, which sounds like a peer to peer form of filesharing the way she put it. This reminds me of that Samsung cell phone on Sprint's Ambassador plan I reviewed a while ago, that attempts to be a media center as well as a cell phone. Why would I use an IM client for peer to peer filesharing? The simple send file is fine for me, even for large files. On the campus network, sending a file to a friend via AIM goes at a rate of 8-10MB/sec. If I need to distribute among many people, I can make a torrent or put it on my box.net account. The sharing folders concept seems to come from the stance that you will have a synchronized folder between contacts for things like photos (flickr?) and documents (gmail/IM simple file send/box.net/xdrive/bittorrent/newsgroups?). Oh and did I forget, everyone uses AIM (the protocol not the client, ie Gaim, Adium, iChat). Getting those 53 million active users, or even just a portion, to switch to Windows Live Messenger would be a monumental task. One huge barrier for getting all those people to switch over is that they have to create a PassPort account and get a hotmail email account. I don't want all of that extra junk. If Microsoft just made its messenger email independent, as in I can sign in with a gmail or yahoo account instead of a hotmail email address, this would simplify the process greatly.

At this point, the Microsoft lady was starting to get on my nerves and seeing as how I was hungry, I decided to end this skirmish quickly. "So does this run on OS X?" I asked her. She replied "Yes, it runs on Windows XP." Thinking she misheard my question as asking what operating system it runs on, I asked again. She replied, "Oh you mean does it run on Apple Mac." I took a few seconds to myself to cool down so I wouldn't say anything I would regret. Before I could reply, she said that Mac users aren't a big concern to them just yet as there are many more Windows users at the moment (although, the number of switchers has increased dramatically recently as Vista woes have spread). The only way I would even consider using Windows Live Messenger would be if it ran on my favorite OS and all my friends used the service as well. Being the major I am however, most of my friends run Linux. We all know that Microsoft will never release a version of their IM client for an alternate OS and since the protocol isn't open to development, we won't be seeing a new version of Gaim with Windows Live Messenger support.

Take a look at Google Talk. Their client only runs on Windows but the Jabber protocol allows anyone with a supporting IM client to run it. Now with Google Talk integrated into Gmail, anyone can use the service on any computer with any OS. This is why I think Google Talk is at least partially successful. From the Gmail invite craze of 2004, everyone has a gmail account, if not a farm of gmail accounts. The Google Talk client is unobtrusive, small and bears no advertisements. The protocol allows for you to utilize your favorite instant messaging client, customizing the interface as it fancies you. Google Talk doesn't promise more than it can handle. I can even talk to people that never use AIM on Google Talk, when they go to check their email.

If you think you can substantiate an argument on why Windows Live Messenger beta is better than the current standard, AIM, and the whole community surrounding it, I will give you an invite to Windows Live Messenger beta pronto. Although, I think the beta is open now so anyone can get an invite.

As for the rest of the TKO tour, the other tents were nice. I got a nice waterbottle for being the fastest kid out of a huddle of 30 to whip out their iPod.