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MSN Messenger upgrade blocks Trillian

Microsoft is forcing people to upgrade to newer versions of its instant messenger application and is shutting its doors to third-party IM products such as Trillian.

Microsoft is forcing people to upgrade to newer versions of its instant messenger application and is shutting its doors to third-party IM products such as Trillian.

As of Oct. 15, users of Microsoft's free Web-based MSN Messenger and its Windows XP-based Windows Messenger will need to upgrade their software to a newer version or be shut out of the service, the software giant said Wednesday. MSN Messenger users will need to upgrade to version 5.0 of higher; Windows Messengers customers will need to upgrade to version 4.7.2009 or higher; and consumers with MSN Messenger for Mac OS X will have to use version 3.5 or higher. The last MSN Messenger to be released was version 6.

According to Microsoft spokesman Sean Sundwall, "Security issues that could be posed (on older versions) require us to force an upgrade." He declined to detail the security issue, saying disclosure would "put customers at undue risk."

Meanwhile, Oct. 15 also will mark the deadline for Trillian support for MSN Messenger. Trillian is software that integrates multiple IM clients into a common interface. While it doesn't enable IM services to communicate directly with one another, it lets people view all of their buddy lists from various services under one window.

Sundwall said the company is opening doors to discuss contractual agreements with third-party integrators, but he would not give definitive assurances that Trillian users will be able to access their MSN contacts after the deadline.

"We certainly would urge third parties who want to continue (hosting the MSN software) to contact us before Oct. 15 when they will no longer be able to access the network," Sundwall said.

A Trillian representative did not return an e-mail requesting comment.

The policy shift comes as the Federal Communications Commission lifted rules restricting America Online from offering high-speed IM services. Microsoft was one of the most outspoken critics of AOL's IM dominance and was instrumental in lobbying the FCC to impose IM restrictions as part of the AOL-Time Warner merger approval.

MSN's IM track record
MSN Messenger is one of the most widespread IM products on the Internet, along with AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. Instant messaging has become popular because it lets people exchange text messages and communicate in real time. MSN and Yahoo have added video conferencing, games and PC phone calling as add-ons to their services, and all three clients allow people to send files or exchange photos.

Microsoft considers IM to be a crucial application because of its popularity among consumers and in the workplace. The company is planning to use IM as the spearhead of its strategy to power corporate Internet networks and eventually offer voice-over-IP services and other real-time communications functions.

While AOL, Yahoo and MSN all have amassed millions of consumers, they have not allowed their services to communicate with one another. A subscriber of Yahoo's IM service, for example, can't chat directly with someone on MSN. This has forced many people to download multiple IM clients onto their computers, and in turn, has allowed the big three providers to flourish alongside each other.

Despite the mutual benefit among the three competitors, relations have not always been harmonious. In 1999, when Microsoft launched MSN Messenger, the company allowed its customers to communicate with AIM users without AOL's consent. This sparked a volley of software blocks and public mudslinging among executives that lasted for months, until Microsoft finally backed down.

But when AOL and Time Warner were undergoing regulatory review in 2000 for their planned merger, Microsoft struck back by aggressively lobbying lawmakers to impose conditions on IM. Microsoft formed a coalition, which included Yahoo and AT&T, that asked regulators to require AOL to set a timeline for opening its network to competitors.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates even called then-FCC Chairman William Kennard to express his concerns over AOL's IM dominance. An AOL representative declined to comment for this story, and a Yahoo spokeswoman did not comment by publication time.

A central part of the FCC's Wednesday ruling argued that AOL's lead in IM has dwindled, while competitors such as MSN and Yahoo have flourished.