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Microsoft instant messenging app sparks code war

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By Robin Lloyd
CNN Interactive Senior Writer

July 23, 1999
Web posted at: 6:20 p.m. EDT (2220 GMT)

(CNN) - Corporate controversy and code wars have broken out following Microsoft's release this week of a free online instant messenger service specifically designed to link to America Online's highly popular, pre-existing message service.

Like AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM, MSN Messenger Service tells computer users when their MSN friends, family and colleagues are online or when they've received e-mail through Microsoft's Web-based Hotmail e-mail service and enables them to exchange online messages.

But unlike AIM, Microsoft's messenger is designed to delve into the competition's client base - specifically AIM - and threatens to overtake it with the interoperability that AIM lacks.

AOL officials have cried foul and charged the software giant with a move that is akin to hacking. Microsoft denies it hijacked anything.

"We basically used standard development procedures with their product to get that to integrate with ours," says lead product manager Deanna Sanford. "We relied on lots of testing and trial and error. We're pleased that we're able to provide this benefit that consumers have been asking for."

AOL failed to return telephone calls Friday seeking comment.

Within a day of MSN Messenger's release, some of those who downloaded the service found their access to AIM users was blocked. Sanford says AOL introduced a quick hack into AIM to prevent its interoperability with Microsoft's messenger service.

No problem. Within a day, Microsoft sent a return volley, posting a new version of MSN Messenger that can hop the barrier supposedly erected by AOL. Sanford said a patch for MSN Messenger users who have already downloaded a copy of the product would be posted by late Friday.

Critics charge Microsoft with violating the privacy of AIM subscribers. Again, Microsoft says it is baffled by this charge, adding that its messenger service offers extensive privacy protections, including the option for users to make themselves "invisible" to users who want to add their e-mail address to a contact list.

For the past year, Microsoft has headed up an effort to promote an industry standard for instant messaging. Sanford said AOL was invited to join but refused.

A history of alleged poaching

Microsoft's new product and the fall-out this week harkens back to the hostilities between Apple Computer and Microsoft after that company released its Windows operating system, which strongly resembled the Apple Macintosh graphical interface.

Microsoft has long been accused of poaching designs, ideas, customers, employees and code from its competitors and is embroiled in an ongoing anti-trust trial on charges brought against the Redmond, Washington-based firm by the U.S. Department of Justice. Microsoft is the largest software company in the world.

In what could be seen as a counter-blow to Microsoft's Hotmail service, AOL-owned ICQ, which first offered a pioneering instant messaging service in the mid-1990s, announced it soon will launch a free, web-based email service. AOL has not offered such a service in the past.

The ICQ Mail service will be tightly integrated into ICQ's instant messaging, chat, desktop Web search and community capabilities, used by more than 38 million ICQ users worldwide. Hotmail has signed up 40 million users.

The MSN messenger service cannot be used to contact ICQ users.

Meanwhile, Yahoo!, which also offers a messenger service in conjunction with its free web-based e-mail, posted downloadable software Friday to allow its Yahoo! Messenger subscribers to send messages to their AIM friends and colleagues.

Instant messaging: Valuable tool or distraction?
July 13, 1999
Microsoft targets telecom
June 9, 1999

AOL Instant Messenger
MSN Messenger Service - Free Instant Messaging service from MSN
U.S. Department of Justice
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