Microsoft Continues to Work Toward Consumer Interoperability, Despite AOL Allegations About MSN Messenger

REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 6, 1999 — On July 22, Microsoft ® launched MSN Messenger Service, the free Internet messaging service that enables people to communicate with the greatest number of Internet users and offers the tightest integration with popular Microsoft communications tools. One of the exciting features of MSN Messenger Service is the ability to exchange messages with both other MSN Messenger users and with people using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

In several recent news reports, America Online has made a number of false or misleading claims about MSN Messenger Service. These comments have been made against the backdrop of AOL’s failure to respond to consumer demand for interoperability between messaging systems. PressPass asked Yusuf Mehdi, director of marketing for Microsoft MSN, to comment.

Q: What is Microsoft’s overall stance on instant messaging and how does it differ from AOL?

A: Communications continues to be the cornerstone of the Internet, and instant messaging is becoming a more prevalent way for people to communicate. With MSN Messenger we are offering a rich and easy solution for people to instant message. In addition we have delivered a breakthrough feature that lets consumers exchange instant messages not only with their MSN contacts but their AIM contacts as well. It is our view that instant messaging should quickly evolve to enable any individual to instant message with anyone else irrespective of their client software or messaging system. In the same way that different telephone handsets and systems interoperate, we’re delivering the functionality to enable people to instant message with each other.

Q: What is the current state of Microsoft’s relationship with AOL on the subject of Instant Messaging?

A: We are very interested in having AOL work with Microsoft and other industry leaders that have gotten behind a proposed industry standard for messaging. For the last two years, many companies have worked with the IETF on the Instant Messaging Presence Protocol as a standard way to help the industry move forward on interoperability. We are disappointed that AOL has chosen not to join the standards process thus far. We are also disappointed that in the interim AOL is choosing to deny consumers the choice of MSN Messenger interoperability.

Q: Does Microsoft’s new MSN Messenger Service strip out AOL’s privacy and security controls, as AOL claims?

A: Absolutely not. Privacy was a top priority in developing MSN Messenger Service, and Messenger provides strong privacy features that enable users to maintain total control of their personal information. MSN Messenger Service in no way compromises the privacy or security of people who use it to communicate with other MSN Messenger users or with their AIM contacts. Specifically:

  • MSN Messenger follows the privacy guidelines of notice, consent and control – explaining what interoperability with AIM enables, asking if you’d like to have the interoperability, and giving you complete control over what interoperability features you’d like to enable.

  • If an AIM user chooses to use MSN Messenger Service to communicate with their AIM contacts, they are prompted to enter the AIM screen name and password to log in to the AIM service. This is exactly the same procedure someone would go through if they were using the AIM client or any other software to login to the AIM service (e.g., Lotus’ Sametime Connect client).

  • MSN Messenger Service also offers people the option to store their Messenger and AIM login names and passwords on their computer to make it easier for them to sign in. This is similar to having the browser remember a password for a web site so you don’t have to remember it yourself. Again, this is exactly the same option that AIM and other 3 party clients offer. None of the AOL user information is transmitted to any server at Microsoft – it is sent directly to the AIM servers for login only.

Q: Is it true that Microsoft invaded AOL’s network without authorization?

A: No. MSN Messenger gives people using the AIM service a choice of which client software they want to use to send instant messages to other AIM contacts. A person who chooses to use MSN Messenger uses his or her authorized AIM account, just as they would with the AIM client. All of the login, authentication and messaging activity for AIM contacts still occurs on the AOL servers, exactly as it would if someone were using the AIM client. MSN Messenger simply provides one integrated interface that allows people to send messages to both MSN Messenger users and AIM users.

Q: AOL claims Microsoft has subverted and/or disabled the AOL Instant Messenger software.

A: Not true. People are completely free to choose which instant messaging service they’d like to use as the default – that is, which service starts up and logs in automatically when Windows starts. If someone chooses to make MSN Messenger the default, it will be started when Windows starts and will log people into the MSN Messenger Service, and, if they have chosen, the AIM service as well. The MSN Messenger setup wizard is very clear in explaining what it means to set MSN Messenger as the default, and gives people the option to check or uncheck this box. This doesn’t mean that the AIM software is disabled. People can certainly still use this client, and it is easy for someone who wants to make AIM the default service again to do so.

Q: Is it true that MSN Messenger drains AOL network and system resources?

A: Of course not. People who have chosen to use MSN Messenger to talk to their AIM contacts already have an authorized AIM account, one that they already use to send messages to their AIM contacts. This doesn’t change when people start using MSN Messenger. The same AIM account is still used to communicate with AIM contacts; the only difference is the client software that the person has chosen. There is no additional load on the AOL servers.

Q: Why is lobbying for an instant messaging standard so important?

A: It has always been Microsoft’s goal that people should be able to talk freely on the Internet, no matter whose software they are using. Microsoft has supported establishing an open standard with the IETF since November 1997, when Microsoft and the rest of the industry proposed the RVP protocol (now called IMPP – instant messaging and presence protocol) to the IETF. AOL was approached at that time to join with Microsoft, the other companies and the IETF, but they declined. To date AOL has not had any active participation with the rest of the industry in meeting consumer demand for interoperability.

Microsoft has been a leader in working with standards bodies and supporting industry standards for interoperability. Internet Explorer is a great example, because it was the first browser to support CSS, HTML 4.0, DHTML, etc. AOL has no track record in the area of industry standards.

Q: Why did Microsoft choose to move forward with interoperability in lieu of an approved instant messaging standard?

A: Again we strongly believe that the long term and best solution is for the industry to standardize on IMPP. We are committed and will support IMPP as soon as the IETF ratifies it as the standard. In the interim, we have delivered a simple and straightforward solution that provides consumers with interoperability among instant messaging clients. People are responding with overwhelmingly positive feedback on MSN Messenger and we will continue to do our best to meet consumer demand for interoperability.

Q: What about AOL’s claim that it asked Microsoft to

make peace

in the letter sent on July 23, 1999?

A: It’s simply untrue. AOL sent a letter informing Microsoft that they would block people who chose to use MSN Messenger to communicate with their AIM contacts, and proposed a
“business arrangement.”
This is in no way in the best interests of our mutual customers or a solution to the broader issue of solving the industry need to have a standard for interoperability on messaging.

Q: Does Microsoft have any response to AOL’s newly announced deal with EarthLink and MindSpring.

A: This announcement is unrelated to the core issues we have been discussing regarding enabling interoperability for consumers. Frankly it feels a bit like a diversion on AOL’s part. They seem to be doing everything they can to NOT enable interoperability for consumers, which is disappointing.

Q: Will Microsoft offer free Internet access to its customers; and, if so, is it a direct shot at AOL?

A: Our focus with MSN Internet Access is to make it easy, fast, and attractive for everyone to get online. We have recently come out with some very compelling offers for consumers that marry a great promotion, such as the Staples $400 instant cash rebate in return for 3 years of MSN Internet Access, along with great technology such as the automatic account creation. In our efforts to help make getting on the Internet as attractive as possible we are considering all manners of technology and promotion. We have no new strategy to announce here from the great promotions that we are already conducting at retail stores today.

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