Former Microsoft programmer looks back at AOL-MSN chat client wars

Several years before Skype launched in 2003, text chat programs like AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM) ruled the Internet in communicating with others online. A new article from a former Microsoft programmer takes a front-row look at the battle between AIM and MSN Messenger in the late 1990s.

The article, on the N+1 website (a subscription is required to read the entire piece), has programmer David Auerbach writing about his experiences working on the MSN Messenger team. The program first launched to the public on July 22, 1999, and Auerbach talks about how he helped write code in Messenger that allowed users to not just chat with friends on their own MSN network, but with their AIM buddies as well.

Needless to say, AOL didn't care for the fact that MSN Messenger had this kind of support and attempted to block its access to AIM. However, the Microsoft team just released new versions that worked their way around AOL's blocks. Eventually, AOL's tactics prevailed and the MSN Messenger team stopped trying to add AIM users to their service. Ironically, there were rumors in 2005 that Microsoft and and Time Warner tried to merge their AOL and MSN units, but those talks never went anywhere.

Several years later, Microsoft ditched the MSN branding from the program in favor of Windows Live Messenger, and in 2013 the company shut down the program altogether in favor of Skype, which it acquired in 2011. However, Auerbach's article is a terrific look back at the early days of the commercial Internet and how two huge online brands openly fought each other to get the text chat audience.

Source: N+1 | Images via Microsoft and AOL

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>>Several years later, Microsoft ditched the MSN branding from the program in favor of Windows Live Messenger, and in 2013 the company shut down the program altogether in favor of Skype, which it acquired in 2011.

Oops, someone at Microsoft forgot to notify the Windows Live programming team because a new version of Windows Live Messenger is available here:

http://www.filehippo.com/download_msn_messenger

Hello,

Kind of sad that the article doesn't mention Tribal Voice's PowWow. It was one of the first instant messaging programs--years before AIM and MSN Messenger. The original version ran on Windows 3.1, even.

Regards,

Aryeh Goretsky

I've used all the popular chat programs. First ICQ ("uh-oh"), had a fairly low number, 7 digits, to log in, but at various times used Yahoo Messenger, AIM, MSN and through the time used IRC as well. Those were the days.

AIM and AOL were the good old days.

I remember the private chatrooms: thuglife, progz, badboyz, warez, server, pokemon, bag, etc.

I always wondered what happened to the geniuses who made servers and famous programs; gothic nightmarez, rampage toolz, spite mmer, and all the other ones I can't remember, I can't even remember the names of the program servers that were created.

I do remember talking to jaGo on a daily basis, he even mailed me some CDs with files on them. He made and.one.

I was on AOL since 2.5, got off I think around AOL 7(?)

ICQ and GeoCities forever! Well, for 18 years ago.

Good god, I just realized that some people are getting old who were born after the Yahoo and AOL buyouts...

You know what I really miss ? The Geocities HTML Chat.. back when your websites had an address (subdivision, street, and house number).. but then they went to Java chat, and it all started to go down hill from there :(

I always liked ICQ better, hitting Enter in AIM or MSN would send out the message, getting you half-finished random thoughts blinking away on your taskbar. ICQ users could press enter and start a new line in their message, you were more likely to get a finished thought by the time they deliberately hit the Send button.

Switching between a bunch of messages where you would have to look at the history to make sense of the current sentence fragment on MSN/AIM was annoying, and blinking taskbar buttons both had (one per conversation, not blinking in sync either) were more distracting than the single pinned icon notifying you of messages that ICQ had.

AIM in particular had a penchant for popping up windows when you were in the middle of entering sensitive info such as a password, and would steal keyboard focus! There was no way to disable this on Windows back in the day, and I considered it a security hazard.

Interesting read. Always hated AIM but it was necessary here in the US. Before I came here, ICQ was king and had friends on it for years later. Currently my communication platform of choice is Skype. I just wish they did better job merging WLM into it and not cut out so many features in the process. Only thing that bothers me is that you need premium subscription to do group video chat - that is retarded and the biggest advantage Google Hangouts has over Skype.

I was big on Yahoo messanger. It was the first chat service which I used aggressively. I don't use it anymore though. In fact, I don't do chatting at all. May be I am now getting old.

riahc3 said,

The problem is who uses AIM :laugh:
Many of my friends to this day. The AIM client integrates with a lot more services (GTalk, Facebook, etc.), or they use other clients like Trillian/Pidgin/Digsby...

Kind of funny how AIM/AOL screen names were like your online identity, where nowadays it's more common to use your full name, thanks to facebook. I have gone through numerous screen names, mostly due to changed interests, or wanting a new identity, until deciding to just revert back to my first AIM screen name that I registered back in 1998 and stick with it...

My buddy list? 3 people from work, and one old friend... kind of depressing, but not as depressing as the AOL chat rooms are now...

Askew_ said,
kind of depressing, but not as depressing as the AOL chat rooms are now...

They still work? :laugh: I thought Yahoo killed theirs and that was the end.

I still have my first AIM Name. No one uses it anymore. I remember asking "You got AIM?" before cell phones really took off. I feel so old.

If your really want to feel old watch kids react to a sony walkman on you tube and one of the kids asks where the touch screen is and "what's a cassette?" :)

old? I was using ICQ since almost the beginning! had a nice short simple number! then forgot it when i got a new PC, and paid $20 to someone for theirs, since the new numbers where too long and complicated!

even before that it was all about IRC baby! but it was more complicated for simple one on one messaging!

Dane said,
I never undestood IRC. I still don't know how to use that stuff.

yeah, there are simple clients and you can get the basics to chat... but you need a freaking tutorial for all the commands.

it is mostly for people who are programmers, and who are used to command line interface. then commands make sense and the learning curve is not too steep.

if you are not used to text commands, learning to use it is a mission! and not a overly fun one in this day and age.

most people there are people who spend years and years using it. scene people.

Dane said,
I still have my first AIM Name. No one uses it anymore. I remember asking "You got AIM?" before cell phones really took off. I feel so old.

Old is good right now anyway. We got to experience technology in its infancy and had a lot of great experiences as a result. The current trend is to wall everything off into appliance like silos. Although the stuff is prettier for the newer generations it definitely isn't anywhere near as fun or trans-formative.

panacea said,

yeah, there are simple clients and you can get the basics to chat... but you need a freaking tutorial for all the commands.

it is mostly for people who are programmers, and who are used to command line interface. then commands make sense and the learning curve is not too steep.

if you are not used to text commands, learning to use it is a mission! and not a overly fun one in this day and age.

most people there are people who spend years and years using it. scene people.

That's not true at all, you've just been using a pretty awful IRC client. Admittedly IRC is donkey's years old and it does show its age somewhat, but for its purpose it's still one of the better chat platforms out there for large numbers of people.

If you use something like mIRC, it's pretty simple and that's not even one of the good IRC programs these days.

Dane said,
I remember asking "You got AIM?" before cell phones really took off. I feel so old.

You arent the only one :laugh: I remember that too!

Find some girl/guy you like. "You got aim?" Every so often someone would say "no" and it would completely throw you off.

Kushan said,

If you use something like mIRC, it's pretty simple and that's not even one of the good IRC programs these days.

yeah, i used mIRC v3.42. i think thats the last time i used it extensively.
;)

AtriusNY said,
AIM was mostly a US thing while MSN messenger got the attraction of messes worldwide.

As other have mentioned ICQ ruled the World before AIM and MSN; as it often happened it became more and more bloated and faded away. I never used AIM, I moved directly to MSN because, among other things, I hated AOL cartoonish GUI.

Someone forgot about ICQ which was the precurser to MSN. Back in those days you had to remember your ICQ number to engage in IM :)

RossDundas said,
Someone forgot about ICQ which was the precurser to MSN. Back in those days you had to remember your ICQ number to engage in IM :)

I still have an old key for ICQ. Still works last I checked

No doubt that it does. Its kind of like getting your Commodore Amiga out of the attic though. Its fun, Geeky, it still works but software and technology unlike wine doesn't get better with age :-)