Dear Microsoft: 7 Reasons Why Windows Live Messenger is Starting to Suck.

To celebrate the coming of Facebook’s Instant Messenger, which some refer to as the “Messenger Killer”, I thought we could reminisce about the bloody history of Instant Messaging, and the current state of affairs.

Some of you may remember a simpler time of instant messaging, when ‘uh-oh’ sounds and crudely drawn happy faces reigned supreme. ICQ, the first massively popular instant messaging program on the web, attracted users with multicoloured chat rooms and basic user profiling.  However, ICQ isn’t a term we hear round these parts too often anymore. That’s because circa 1998, King Microsoft ventured into IM land with their mandatory installs and predatory practices, stomping it out with its simple (but elegant) Windows Messenger. Despite cries from dedicated ICQ’ers about the inefficiencies of the software, it was only a matter of time, and MSN Messenger’s advantage of being built in to Windows eventually powered its way to victory (not before Mirabilis, the makers of ICQ, sold to AOL in 1998 for a cool $287 Million).

Fast forward a few years or ten, and we’re all using Microsoft’s latest incarnation: Windows Live Messenger. It’s a sure fire way of getting in touch with friends. And it sucks. Year after year another useless feature is piled on, and now we’ve got software which takes minutes to load despite the fact that at its core, it is relaying text messages between computers.

What follows is a list of “What were you thinking?” additions. Sit back and take the time to enjoy this, because I know we’re going to feel some camaraderie on how terrible we’ve been treated for the last few years as users of Messenger. Incidentally, if anybody’s listening at Microsoft: please take these features out before a competitor beats you at the relatively simple game of instant messaging. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

1) Tabs
Is it really necessary for my instant messaging client to “Sizzle”, as the Kiwee tab in this screenshot intends? I just want to talk to my friends. This tab is obviously ignored 99% of the time, but let’s say I’ve just hit the most mind-numbing day of boredom ever conceived, and I decide to give KiWee tabbing a shot. My first impression of the service would be what you see in the screenshot: one quarter of a page where about half of a ‘tool bar’ (?) is visible. I am asked to ‘log in’. Aren’t I already logged in? Simply put: What the hell does this tab mean?  Fail.

2) Pay-for-use Emoticons

… Are you actually serious? I always have to wonder if there are actually people out there that will pay for a small yellow face that has a slightly deformed smile as compared to the default emoticons given with Messenger. If you enjoy this and are reading this (almost impossible, as we have intelligence restrictions by IP address), please, let me know that I’m “out of the loop” and “all the cool kids are doing it”. Another great element of this feature is that it now takes twice as long to load the emoticon selection window.

3) The Customer Improvement Program

Everytime I start Live Messenger (and wait a few minutes for it to load) I am rewarded with the space under my name asking me to “Learn More About the Customer Improvement Program”. Despite the fact that most of Messenger’s glaring oversights should have been handled by the designers eons ago, I decide I’ll do them the favour (without pay) of letting them know what to fix, by clicking through… Hold on a second! This pop-up isn’t saying “Please enter your feedback”: It says “let us collect statistics about your Messenger usage”.  Well I’m not signing up for that.  Where is the option to remove this ‘customer service’ notice from my limited-space on Messenger?  Nowhere?  Shouldn’t this message have some sort of option to disappear? It’s been there for two years! If I didn’t click it the first time, I’m not going to do it now. Isn’t it kind of mandatory that good software allow me to remove things like this? Then again… is this good software?

4) Winks
I know exactly what you thought of this, because it’s exactly what I thought of this. “Wow, that was pretty cool.” Probably, that was the first and last time you ever used “Winks”. I’m not sure where lies the fun-factor in letting other people have the power to slap minute long animations with terrible sound across your conversation window, and probably on top of your music. But even if that sounded like roses to me, couldn’t they come up with something better than a kid throwing a balloon? After all, this is a product of the richest, brightest, most influential technology corporation in the world. Or is that Google now? Bonus: this feature also takes a sweet minute to load. Are you seeing a pattern here Microsoft? These ‘cool new upgrades’ are slowing down my life.

5) Live Spaces
Get over it. It’s not going to work, even if all of a sudden you guys label it a “social network”. It’s just another page for me to submit photos and write information about myself. But since my actual friend list is only barely integrated into the Spaces page, I guess I’m just posting for myself. You want this feature to make some impact? Let me tag the photos, let me have circles of friends, enable bulletin boards that automatically save conversations between my best friends. There’s so much you could do, but seeing as you’re not doing anything, drop it. Did I mention relabeling Spaces as a social network is like calling MySpace user-friendly?  Check out my earlier post about this, where I have a screenshot of my Spaces news feed: (unknown name) has added (unknown name).

6) Sharing Folders

I’ve tried this three times, because I actually like the idea of having a web folder between me and my friend.  Each of the three times I’ve tried, however, it has failed to connect, and not only that, each consecutive time I boot up Live Messenger, I’m now asked to resume these connections that failed in the first place. It is a P2P technology system (think BitTorrent) and I applaud MS for getting into that game, but don’t slap this button all over the place until you can have better guarantees of functionality. It doesn’t help that there is no longer a “Send File” option in my chat window, because it has been replaced with the broken “Sharing Folders”.

7) Windows Live Onecare Scanning Software
I’m sure any regular Messenger user saw this gripe coming back in section 2. It’s what prompted the article. The ‘last straw’, or so they say.

About a year back, I received a file from my brother. “This file may potentially be harmful” appeared to me in an anciently styled grey box.  Considering the only option was to click “OK”, I did.  Heading over and checking my “My Received Files” folder, I noticed the file was deleted without notice. It had taken an hour to transfer. This now happens daily with users and files of all types, and it’s gone so far as to condition us to avoid clicking the download link from within our Messenger window… for no good reason. I’ve virus-scanned and  tested files that have been blocked, and there was nothing wrong with the file.  If you ever get this error, please ignore it, then open the file in a separate window, and try scanning it: 9 times out of 10 it’s fine. What an absurd, unacceptable user experience. If software like this was released by a new startup technology company, it wouldn’t just fail, the company would get purposely and systematically refused funding for ever launching another project again.

This gets better though. A few months ago, Microsoft released Windows Live OneCare Scanner. My first impression was that it took literally 10 minutes to load while some obscure and frankly unofficial looking window loaded the software the first time a file was transferred. The second time, the window hung up and never disappeared. The third time? See image.

Windows Live OneCare informs me the file has been scanned and is fine. I click the link, the first time in a long time that I felt safe to click without my transfer being deleted… And that pop up appears again!  “There seems to be a potential problem with the file”!? That’s impossible. OneCare just said that it was fine… I give up.

In closing, Microsoft, this scathing catharticism is not an attempt to ‘beat on the big guy’ as has been done to you so many times before. It’s not any sort of Damocles’-esque suggestion to switch to open source software. Heck, I’m not even harping on the constant, rotating banner ads (remove them). This piece is a request from a legitimate, long-term user who has put up with annoyance after annoyance and simply has come to a point of exhaustion. I’m not going to stop using Messenger, nor are all my friends. We’ve grown together using Messenger. But please, for the love of money, pay attention to your users… or else!


3 comments so far

  1. eca on

    well said….

  2. RideTheWalrus on

    I fucking hate the live care scanner. Why the hell does it scan JPG files? GIF files? Ridiculous waste of my time…

  3. D'uh on

    1. Don’t like Kewee fine, nether do I. don’t download it.
    2. Pay for Winks, are you retarded? I never payed for windows ether, why the heck do I pay internet in the first place.
    3. OnOne care what is that, I have a later Live MSG and don’t have that, sound like crap to me.

    and 4. Microsoft never cared about costumers, why should they now. All they do is copy someones work and say: “Here, try this. Don’t like it don’t use it, who gives a damn”
    Firefox tabs in IE… ring any bell

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