Microsoft has lashed out at AOL for its decision to prevent users of the newly launched MSN Messenger Service from communicating with AOL Instant Messenger customers.
Instant messaging software tells users when friends or colleagues are online and allows them to exchange messages in near real time.
The market has traditionally been dominated by AOL Instant Messenger, which has around 35 million users, but Microsoft was hoping to knock the giant ISP off its perch, with the launch last week of its own product - MSN Messenger.
Available free to all users of MSN's free email service, Hotmail, Messenger was touted as the first messaging system to interoperate with AOL’s. But the management at the ISP trounced this claim at the weekend by instructing its programmers to block MSN instant messages.
In a statement this afternoon, MSN group marketing manager Gillian Kent said Microsoft was disappointed by AOL’s actions.
“It is unfortunate that AOL chose to purposely disable functionality in our product which customers have been asking for,” Kent said.
“It is now clear that AOL is more focused on maintaining their proprietary hold on this service than on what is right for consumers."
“We are still committed to providing the interoperability that customers are demanding through an open, standards based approach and hope that AOL will review this action and cooperate with MSN on this service for the ultimate good of the customer,” MSN's Kent added.
MSN UK sales director Tom Bowman would not be drawn on what the company’s next move was likely to be.
Microsoft was considering its position and was hopeful that the issue could be resolved, Bowman said.
“Integrated communication tools is what it’s all about - Microsoft is committed to making the Web more user friendly,” Bowman said.
IDC Internet service provider analyst James Eibisch said the affair was an example of Microsoft wanting to claim a share of a market which was dominated by a competitor.
The Messager launch could develop into another example of the now familiar Microsoft strategy of developing a competitive product and using its desktop muscle to ensure it became the de facto industry standard, Eibisch said.
While some AOL users would welcome the chance to exchange instant messages with non-AOL users, others were likely to be ambivalent, he said.
“Maybe some users may feel they are losing some of the value [of AOL].”
Microsoft has been pushing for industry standard messaging protocols and is involved in a working group on the subject set up by the Internet Engineering Taskforce two years ago.
As part of the download process, MSN Messenger scans the user’s computer to determine whether Instant Messenger is used and offers the option to communicate directly with AOL’s service.
AOL officials were not willing to comment.
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