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Instant Messaging Liberation and Assorted Whining
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saxifrage00
Microsoft Messenger's network has become abruptly flaky since the end of last week. I know that they're pressuring people to switch to version 8, which uses a different protocol. I wouldn't put it past them to systematically drop connections to clients that aren't version 8, but I may just be paranoid due to their history of such underhanded practices. Of course, the network trouble could simply be due to overloading and problems implementing the new protocol parallel to the old one.

In any case, this new version and the attendant change in protocol to some encryption stuff, which is a Good Thing. The Bad Thing is that they're going to be charging licenses for any non-Messenger client that is designed to connect, which means the community-developed clients are going to be unable to connect. The paid third-party clients such as Trillian are likely going to pony up for a license, but I doubt that they will stay afloat for long unless they can offer MSN access in their free version. Few teenagers are going to or will be able to buy a piece of software in order to chat with their friends.

The net result: third-party clients will be cut out of the network, and anyone who is unwilling to give up their personal network of friends will switch to Messenger 8. The DMCA will be applied to prevent users from reverse-engineering the protocol in order to make a client that will connect. Some few people will switch to other networks such as Yahoo, ICQ/AIM, or Jabber.

So, my end point is that it is likely that I will soon be unable to contact anyone on my Messenger list, since I will not even be able to install Messenger 8 and my current client will not be able to connect. For anyone who's actually interested in having me on their friends list, I recommend Jabber, which is an IM system equivalent to email - it's an open specification (like email), anyone can run a server (like email) so you're not locked into one company and their whims, and anyone can build a client (like email) so you're not stuck with a client you don't like. In short, it's uncontrolled by a single economic interest from end-to-end, and I will be on there. :-)

Clients I would recommend are Exodus for Windows, and GAIM for Linux.

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You're not *surprised*, though, are you? ;-)

Some few people will switch to other networks such as Yahoo, ICQ/AIM, or Jabber.

...and then there are those of us who have never had an MSN account, just on principle (which is not to say that Yahoo, AOL and ICQ aren't evil, but IMO they're lesser evils), and are reminding ourselves not to say "I told you so" as M$ drags their adherents down this well-trodden path yet again ;-)

Re: You're not *surprised*, though, are you? ;-)

The only reason I had a Messenger account in the first place was because of the people I knew who use it, so I'm intimately familiar with the networking effect that Microsoft is leveraging to get people to switch.

I have a really old ICQ account that had an ancient friends list, and I occasionally heard from people via ICQ who'd otherwise disappeared. Only recently, my account was mysteriously disabled; I now have no incentive to use their network in the slightest, since my established friends list and my known-to-old-friends ICQ# were the parts of the service which held real value.

This is why I want to move to Jabber. Having an open protocol, nothing short of a lack of mindshare will bring the Jabber network down or make it unusable to me.

Since the likelihood of no one releasing an illicit client is somewhat near nil, I'm not overly concerned.

Or maybe I'm just being excessively optimistic.

Remember that the major feature of the version 8 protocol is client authentication and connection encryption. Any client that sells itself as able to masquerade as a legitimate client will by necessity have to have reverse engineered the encryption and authentication scheme of the protocol. The more it is advertised, the sooner MS will hear about it and shut it down using the DMCA.

I'm not hopeful that a client like that will surface. I'm more looking at this as an opportunity to get people I know to switch to something that isn't controlled by a self-interested, bottom-line driven entity.

After all, where would we be if email had been patented back in 1971?

Key point: DMCA is not internationally enforced. Oh, Scandinavians...
As for switching, you have to wonder: Most people I know who use msn, do so because they were not sufficiently computer-savvy to even be aware of the other options out there. The chances of them switching are just this side of zero, but only barely. I presume your friends list is more tech-oriented, but still not sufficiently so to avoid msn. Jabber, from your description alone, was sounding pretty complex to me, and I'm way above average as far as computer usage goes.

The problem isn't in who controls it, or even in the difficulty of use (well, not much in the difficulty of use). It's in the popularity of the product. The US govt. at one point was considering using the M$ Passport authentication for nationwide online identification. That's what popularity gives you. ICQ has it. MSN has it. AIM sorta has it. Jabber sure as hell doesn't.

Key point: DMCA is not internationally enforced. Oh, Scandinavians...

The DMCA is getting more and more clones around the world. The EU has almost ratified a bill that is even stronger than the DMCA called the European Union Copyright Directive.

Asia is untouchable by MS, but a client out of Asia will likely never get out of Asia due to language issues.

American imperialism means that foreign citizens have been and will be dragged into the States to be prosecuted. See the Sklyarov/Elcomsoft case for what happened to a Russian programmer who wrote something an American company didn't like.

Non-Union European countries remain one of the few places encryption R&D, including reverse-engineering, may be pursued without undue restriction. Even so, there is still the risk of a repeat of the Sklyarov case.

I presume your friends list is more tech-oriented, but still not sufficiently so to avoid msn.

Actually, my IMing contacts are mostly my non-technical social circle, which is why they were using Messenger in the first place, and why I got an account to talk to them.

Jabber, from your description alone, was sounding pretty complex to me, and I'm way above average as far as computer usage goes.

It's complex under the hood, but then so is email. Ever try to set up a mail server from scratch, not using something out-of-the-box? In use, Jabber has come a long way since I originally looked at it a couple years ago and dismissed it as immature. Today, it's as simple as any other service: download a client, pick an account name@jabber.org, and click "Register."

It's in the popularity of the product.

Very true. Jabber isn't there, but I only care if the people I want to talk to are on it, no? ;-)

Nitpick: Sklyarov was arrested in the US, not outside its borders. Totally different story.

Though you're probably right, and an unlicensed client won't happen.

But Jabber... How many people whom you meet will be willing to download, setup, and learn a new client, on top of however many they already have, just for the sake of IMing with you? Granted, I've never met you, so you may well be the one fascinating and intriguing individual who makes the effort worth it, but the people *I* meet are generally too lazy for that, or don't find me quite that interesting :/

A massive, single-stage Jabber conversion might work. A continuous process is much less likely to succeed.

I know that he was arrested in the US. They were waiting for him at the airport after he was invited to Defcon. No extradition, no chance for his own country's government to have a say in his arrest. This would be like stepping off a plane in Bali for a vacation and being arrested because you did something in your own country that is against some backwards law in Indonesia.

Yeah, I'm going for the one-step massive upgrade among my friends, which is half the point of my original post. ;-) Besides that, there are a lot of good third-party clients (such as GAIM, which I use) which can do multiple networks transparently. More complicated is the gateway facility within Jabber itself that allows Jabber users to communicate directly with other networks, but that is too complicated/inconvenient to set up for most users, including me.

But Jabber... How many people whom you meet will be willing to download, setup, and learn a new client, on top of however many they already have, just for the sake of IMing with you?

Me, for one :)

When I switched to Linux, I couldn't get into my Yahoo account due to some brokenness on their end. So I installed the Jabber protocol to gaim, just so I could chat with this crazy character. But I guess I'm biased.

Vee don't need no steenking MSN. But I guess we'll see a bifurcation of chat users into the less tech-savvy using MSN, and others using other protocols. This doesn't bother *me*, as apparently all of my friends are on the latter side of the fence already: I don't have an MSN account, never have, never felt the need for one.

When I switched to Linux, I couldn't get into my Yahoo account due to some brokenness on their end.

As I recall, you could not get into ICQ either ... and had problems doing file transfers from my webpage ... and ... and ... and ... *grin*

just giving you linux heads a hard time ... kind of my job, I guess.

(as an aside, Messenger is pretty sweet)

As I recall, you could not get into ICQ either ...

That was with a specific client, Gnome ICU, that seems to be pretty crappy. Once I tried gaim it worked fine.

and had problems doing file transfers from my webpage ... and ... and ... and ... *grin*

Uhm, that was under Windoze ;-)

Uhm, that was under Windoze ;-)

I do have to ask ... why do people use that term? or the term M$ or $CO or Shrub (as in President Shrub) or womyn?

I figure you, as a writer type person, might shed some light on that.


Because they amuse us. Need there be any other reason?

Why do you call it The Interweeb? ;-)

Why do middle-aged men wearing sweat-stained undershirts refer to their wifes as "the old ball and chain"? Why call anything other than by its OED-prescribed name? Because imagery -- even mocking, pejorative imagery, and you're the *king* of mockery, I should point out! -- lends colour to language.

'Womyn' is a whole other thing. I don't personally use that spelling, and I tend to think that those who do are perhaps misplacing their energy, but as I understand it 'womyn' is intended to name the group of females independently of 'men'. It is not, as are the others you list, pejorative. Or, not intended to be ;-)

Oh yeah. Where would we be if email had been patented? Well, there are two options. One is that email would've gone the way of Beta. The other option is the telephone, which was most definitely patented. Either way, M$ isn't proposing to charge the end-user for use of the protocol, the servers, or the client software. They're merely inconveniencing the competition. Makes perfect commercial sense, and doesn't really go beyond M$'s unwillingness to write opensource code.

The other option is the telephone, which was most definitely patented.

Then we'd be paying a base subscription fee for access to the Etelcoms to use their email network, and be charge a per-use fee based on message size each time we sent one. It also wouldn't work very well internationally, and no-one would want to send an email to Australia because of the exhorbitant pricing for long-distance email. ;-)

My original point was that email would be a very different beast today, or non-existant, if it had been a suite of proprietary software rather than an openly specced protocol. Same with TCP/IP and the Internet. Infrastructure's not free, but the protocol should be. Email might have been better, or it might have been worse, but it wouldn't belong to the people.

They're merely inconveniencing the competition. Makes perfect commercial sense, and doesn't really go beyond M$'s unwillingness to write opensource code.

True, but MS makes money off of email, and so does Yahoo. Neither has to rely on lack of inter-operability to do so.

I doubt email would be priced based on geographical distance. That'd be the equivalent of cable TV pricing based on the geographical location of the signal source. Paying per email would also not have happened. Local phone calls are charged based on a flat rate, after all. As for paying for the use of email, well... We are. It's bundled in with your internet account, sure, but still.

My prediction is that we would have ended up where we are now, and probably at equivalent costs.

Now, as to why M$ would do such a thing...

  • The vast majority of the msnm users is using the native client.
  • The minority who choose to use a different client are mostly using open-source clients. M$ had identified Linux as the no. 1 threat to continued M$ stability in the market. If that's not a reason to chip away at the opensource community, I don't know what is. I will admit, this is a stretch, but not much of one.
  • By forcing a proprietary client on all users, M$ can offload some of the work from server-side to client-side. ICQ, for the longest time, left authorization management for adding contacts as a client-centered task. Numerous Linux clients simply ignored that "feature" and added people without waiting for permission. Some incredibly annoying aspects of msnm were its approaches to storing history and its format of conversation. Miranda gave me the option of sending separate messages to msn clients, the same way ICQ does. This meant that I could send the message to fifty people at once, msn or no msn. Just an example of one way in which msnm protocols were being used in a way not intended by M$.

[Email is] bundled in with your internet account, sure, but still.

It's not necessary for an access account to come with email. Owning a domain, I have an email address that has nothing to do with my ISP. I couldn't do that if the virtual infrastructure of email was kept under the thumb of a corporation.

Now, as to why M$ would do such a thing...

I won't dispute any of your theoretical reasons, because they're all good and likely ones. Another is that MS is trying to get into the corporate IM business, and they won't be able to do so if they can't show business customers that their IM solution qualifies as Trusted Computing -- thus the encryption.

My point is that we are already paying for the existence of a communication medium: the Internet. We can send whatever data we want over it, so we don't need Microsoft. The only reason MS is in the picture at all is because people aren't aware of alternatives, and MS has a foot in the door of their homes to offer them a service before anyone else can.

We both work nights, don't we?

It's not necessary for an access account to come with email. Owning a domain, I have an email address that has nothing to do with my ISP. I couldn't do that if the virtual infrastructure of email was kept under the thumb of a corporation.

Owning a domain, you are paying for yet another service which could reasonably include email service. The end-user would have nothing to do with the patent holder directly, just like you don't deal with the telephone patent holder (or wouldn't be, had the patent still been valid). A large company purchases a usage license, and pays the patent owner for the privilege. It is then up to the licensee to make up the costs. Thus, you would reasonably expect to have the costs of an email address to be included in your hosting/domain name registration costs.

Or maybe you'd have to acquire a license, the way they force you to do with TVs in Britain. Hey, funny, that. I'd just found one benefit of a patented email service. No anonymous spam. Since every email address would be much better tracked for commercial purposes, there'd be a much higher degree of accountability for what emerged from your email address. With email, just like with the phone, you can reach millions of people. Only difference is, email is free, and online marketers become that much more aggravating (insert "Good Omens" reference here).

My point is that we are already paying for the existence of a communication medium: the Internet. We can send whatever data we want over it, so we don't need Microsoft. The only reason MS is in the picture at all is because people aren't aware of alternatives, and MS has a foot in the door of their homes to offer them a service before anyone else can.

Hardly. I've engaged in numerous debates as to why Linux isn't a serious competitor for M$ in the desktop market. The overall impression I'd gotten out of them is that M$ is bad, but not bad enough so as to be utterly useless. (Alan Cooper's "Inmates are Running the Asylum" reference here) Windows is, for the most part, dancing bearware (people are happy that the bear's dancing at all, and ignore the fact that it's doing so very badly). However, there is very little out there that does the job superbly. I can name one product in the graphic design market: Maya, from Alias Wavefront. I spoke to one of the guys who worked on the product. The colour-selection mechanics alone are incredible in complexity and thoughtfulness of design. Nothing else I've seen in the same field comes anywhere close. If, however, Maya did not exist, I wouldn't have any reason to switch from one graphics app to another. They're too similar in capabilities, in usefulness, and in ease of use. You simply stick with what you're used to, rather than risk wasting time and effort on something that in the end will do very little to ease your work.

Nothing I've seen in the IM field is sufficiently superior to msnm. I've tried ickle and gaim. I've tried GnomeICU, licq, and even micq. At least two of those had failed to install, and then had failed to provide any sort of understandable instructions on what their dependencies were. I can't be impressed by an IM client if I can't get the damned thing to even start.

M$ doesn't provide anything good in the way of customer support, usability, accomodations or customizations for specific user needs, or even a lack of ads. The only thing it does is provide a product just good enough to do the job. For a competing product to be actual competition, it has to be either just as readily available (which is unlikely) or far, far superior to msnm. And, lest we forget, free.

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