I've been using instant messaging for as long as I've had Internet access. The very first instant messaging program I used was Windows Live Messenger, back when it was called MSN Messenger. Over the last few years, I've watched their official Messenger client get progressively worse and more bloated, and more and more people moving away from it to other IM platforms such as Google Talk (which uses Jabber/XMPP, an open protocol). Now an era is coming to an end. Tomorrow is the day that Microsoft finally retires Windows Live Messenger and begins forcing all users to use Skype. This does make sense from a business perspective - They're getting rid of the old network that they make barely any money from, and moving everything to the one they acquired for $8.5 billion in 2011 and has 55 million users online concurrently.
However, from a technology perspective, this is definitely a huge step backwards. They're referring to the WLM to Skype migration as an "upgrade", I guess in the same way that moving from a mansion to a one-bedroom unit is also an "upgrade". The truth is that Skype really feels like a voice/video chat app with basic instant messaging capabilities added as an afterthought, probably because that's exactly what it is. Don't get me wrong, Skype is great for voice and video chats, but for instant messaging it's nowhere near as good as Windows Live Messenger. Skype is lacking a lot of features that are present in Windows Live Messenger, some of which include:
- Custom emoticons
- Easy extensibility. Windows Live Messenger has a large community and large number of addins available, such as Messenger Plus
- Groups via Windows Live Groups. These are persistent groups similar to Facebook groups. Similar to a chat room except whenever someone comes online, they automatically appear in the group
- Interoperability and third-party clients. Windows Live Messenger supports the XMPP protocol which makes writing third-party clients easy. Skype uses a closed-source protocol and has no third-party clients (this is why Pidgin doesn't support Skype). This is a huge one for me - I don't want to use separate programs for every single instant messaging network I use!
- No web-based messenger, official or otherwise (like eBuddy). This ties in to the point above about third-party clients
- Custom display names
- Skype lets you sign in at multiple locations at once (like Windows Live Messenger) but there's no way to sign out from all locations at once (like if someone guesses your password and logs in as you)
- File transfers and games that actually work
- Voice clips (sending small sound bytes without having to start a full two-way conversation)
- Remote assistance (as far as I know, Skype lets you show the other person your screen, but they can't take control)
- Email notifications for Hotmail / Windows Live / Outlook accounts
- Ironically, I used to find that the video quality in Windows Live Messenger was much better than Skype
And I'm sure there's many others that I've missed. Microsoft has had months to improve Skype so that it can even compete with Windows Live Messenger, but they have not done anything at all.
It's the end of an era. I'm rarely on Windows Live Messenger these days, but if you do have me as a contact, feel free to add me on Google Talk.
Until next time,