A Retrospective – MSN Messenger

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What used to be one of the most popular instant messaging clients out there is now just a memory from years ago. In its hayday MSN Messenger connected millions of people around the world and by had over 330,000,000 users. So what exactly happened to MSN Messenger? In today, I wanted to take a look back at the once very popular IM client and discuss how it changed over the years up until its discontinuation in 2014.

MSN Messenger started its life in the summer of as a free download on Microsoft’s website called the MSN Messenger Service. This first version of the program, which ran under Windows 98, provided basic chat functionality that you would expect from an IM client.

At the time, AOL Instant Messenger was the chat program of choice by computer users but Microsoft hoped to gain some of AOL’s market share with MSN Messenger. To do this, Microsoft actually made the first few versions of MSN Messenger to be fully compatible with AOL Instant Messenger, a feature that was not liked by America Online, so much so that AOL attempted to block MSN Messenger from communicating with AIM, until Microsoft finally just gave up and instead focused on integrating MSN Messenger with Windows. This could first be seen in Windows ME.

While going through the setup process, the user had the option to install the MSN Messenger service. By version 4.6, MSN Messenger was bundled with Windows XP, under a new name – Windows Messenger. This special ad-free version of MSN Messenger was created only for Windows XP users, while users of older Windows versions could download MSN Messenger 4.6 online. This new version brought the first of many user interface redesigns. They also included a couple of new features. You could now start voice calls with other users and send files to them from within the program.

In 2002, Microsoft updated MSN Messenger to version 5.0, which brought some more interface changes and the introduction of the MSN Member Directory. This tool, which is still accessible online today allowed users to find friends online without having to know their email address. It wasn’t until when MSN Messenger got its first major update.

Version 6.0 was packed with a ton of new features and brought a completely redesigned user interface to MSN Messenger. Users now had the ability to apply a custom user avatar, and customize the conversation window for each of their contacts.

Version 7.0 of MSN Messenger, released in 2005, brought both XBOX Live and Yahoo! Messenger integration, although the Yahoo! integration ended in 2012. We also saw the intoduction of both Winks, which are short animated emoticons, and audio messages.

In late 2005, Microsoft’s all new Windows Live platform was scheduled to be introduced, which prompted a name change of the many MSN related services. One of these was MSN Messenger which had its name changed to Windows Live Messenger in version 8.0.

This new version focused on updating many of the user interface elements to align better with other Windows Live services, such as Windows Live contacts, which could now be imported into Messenger.

In May of 2011, Microsoft acquired Skype and a year later announced that Windows Live Messenger would be discontinued in favour of Skype. This was most likely done because Skype had a much larger userbase than Windows Live Messenger ever did.

It also did not really make much sense for Microsoft to have two different instant messaging services, and combining the two services into one would allow for more seamless interoperability as Skype users were not able to communicate with Windows Live Messenger users.

In early the transition was completed and all Windows Live Messenger users were encouraged to start using Skype. However, the service was not completely shut down until 2014. 15 years after the program’s initial introduction.

So thats a brief history of MSN Messenger. Although it was killed off in many dedicated fans of the program have found ways to continue using it. Projects like Escargot provide an unofficial server that patched versions of MSN Messenger can connect to, and there’s even dedicated sites like Messenger Geek where users discuss their own personal experience with MSN Messenger. So while the program is pretty much forgotten by most people it has a special place in the lives of many and is an important chapter in the history of instant messaging.