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June 20, 2006

Will MSN Messenger by another name smell sweeter?

Posted by David Hunter at 12:52 PM ET.

My apologies to the Bard for the title, but that’s the question as Microsoft released the latest version of MSN Messenger under the Windows Live brand:

Windows Live Messenger, which had been available in test form, will officially launch Tuesday.

The free program is an upgrade to MSN Messenger, the previous name for the software maker’s tool for quickly communicating online. Such products have become incredibly popular for a wide variety of audiences, from teens to business people.

The basic service gives people a way to quickly type messages back and forth. Windows Live Messenger also offers video calling and ways to easily share files, among other features.

Competitors, including market leader AOL, also are adding such functions.

Yahoo released the latest beta of their IM offering yesterday with similar features.

MSN Messenger was the second-most popular instant messaging service, after AOL, for U.S. home and worker users, according to May data from Nielsen/NetRatings.

Globally, MSN Messenger is the most popular instant messaging client, with 204.6 million users in April, according to comScore Media Metrix. Yahoo is No. 2 with 76 million users, while Time Warner Inc.’s AIM and AOL messaging products together had about 51.3 million users, the research firm said.

That’s what we’re used to seeing, but there are various ways of counting for these market stats so you may see different rankings like eBay’s Skype as number 1 followed by AIM and then Yahoo.

The official press release has more on the new features in Windows Live Messenger and something else:

We can’t bring ourselves to let the company’s feeble attempt to link the launch to the new Pirates of the Caribbean film pass without comment. Actually we can. But have a look at the press release here, and share our pain.

Aside from the pain, it was rather odd since Windows Live Messenger has enhanced importance as the leadoff hitter in Microsoft’s lineup of the Windows Live online service offerings (discounting the misbranded Windows Live OneCare which launched last month). Microsoft underscored the importance in a press Q&A with Martin Taylor, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Windows Live and MSN:

Windows Live Messenger is the first core, global service to launch of the more than 20 new services currently in testing for Windows Live, a set of personal Internet services and software designed to give users greater control over how they stay informed, connected and protected on the Web.

PressPass: Why did Microsoft choose Windows Live Messenger as the first core Windows Live service to launch?

Taylor: We regard Windows Live Messenger as one of the most pivotal services within Windows Live, because it’s built to help people connect and share in all kinds of rich, unique ways. Windows Live Messenger offers people the ability to see, talk and share with family and friends in such a seamless way that puts them in control. Windows Live Messenger is also integrated with many of the Windows Live services to serve as a convenient entry point into consumers’ online world so they can do even more than IM right from one place. From directly within Windows Live Messenger, users can launch a shared Windows Live Search query so they can pick out a restaurant with the person they’re talking with, or visit a blog on MSN Spaces to see what their friend has been up to, or browse to their favorite Web sites using Windows Live Favorites, or check their Windows Live Mail. So in many ways Windows Live Messenger is one of the main hubs of Windows Live. Windows Live Messenger also is the first core service that incorporates the sleek user interface and look-and-feel that will be used across all of the Windows Live services.

PressPass: How big of a role will Windows Live Services play in the future of Microsoft’s business?

Taylor: Windows Live is a huge growth opportunity for Microsoft. The online advertising opportunity will be a big growth driver for Microsoft in the coming years, as the market continues to expand. To ensure we are ready to take advantage of this opportunity, we plan to dedicate roughly US$1.1 billion of the company’s overall $6.2 billion research and development budget toward Windows Live and MSN in the 2007 fiscal year that starts next month.

As usual, Jupiter Research’s Joe Wilcox has an interesting take:

Granted, there are many new features in the updated Messenger client, but like many of its Windows Live counterparts, the software is rebranded MSN. As I said at the start of this “Live” drive, MSN rebranding would be the real new thing. Interesting, Microsoft is making more noise over Messenger than Windows Live OneCare, which is something new. That product launched about 20 days ago.

About half the Windows Live products–nearly all betas–are MSN updates or rebrands, while some of the others moved from MSN to Windows Live testing. As of yet, there is little brand-spanking new, although Microsoft is improving products and cross-integrating loads of features among the “Live” stuff.

Wilcox also observes that if you had to pick a target for all this Microsoft effort, Yahoo might well be a better choice than Google.

Filed under AOL, Coopetition, General Business, MSN, MSN Messenger, Marketing, Microsoft, Online Services, Public Relations, Skype, Windows Live, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo, eBay

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2 Responses to “Will MSN Messenger by another name smell sweeter?”

  1. Time for some Martin Taylor departure theories -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] As long as we are making stuff up though, I’m partial to a Pirates of the Caribbean theory myself – someone in Microsoft’s executive suite surely must have noticed that it was rather odd marketing to so intimately tie Tuesday’s announcement of the first real Windows Live product and a pillar of the Windows Live strategy to a sequel of an old Disney movie. Filed under General Business, Employee Retention, Windows Live, Marketing, Windows Live Messenger, Microsoft   [Permalink] [...]

  2. Windows Live Toolbar ships sans marketing -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] But here’s a puzzle. Do you get the feeling that Windows Live marketing has gone AWOL since Martin Taylor’s disappearance? Windows Live OneCare and Windows Live Messenger got press releases when they shipped in May and June respectively (at which point Taylor left), but Windows Live Custom Domains and Windows Live Favorites just got posts in Microsoft blogs when they shipped in June, as did Windows Live Expo when it shipped in July. Now Windows Live Toolbar doesn’t even get a post in a Microsoft blog that I can find. [...]

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