Glitches Plague Windows Messenger

Users are wondering if dropped instant messaging connections, loss of VOIP capabilities and spotty delivery of alerts by Microsoft's Windows Messenger could be traced to .Net.

Dropped instant messaging connections, loss of voice-over IP capabilities, spotty delivery of .Net Alerts services—all are problems users are having with Microsoft Corp.s Windows Messenger real-time communications platform.

Many users are pointing a finger of blame at the companys .Net application delivery framework.

Windows Messenger supports instant messaging, video and audio conferencing, and PC telephony. Like just about every other Microsoft product today, it runs on .Net Web services delivery architecture.

Messenger became integrated with the Redmond, Wash., developers desktop operating system for the first time with the release last October of Windows XP. Users problems began shortly thereafter.

The most prevalent problem users are having is with instant messaging in the current version of Windows Messenger, Version 4.6. After upgrading to 4.6 – through Windows XPs automatic upgrades feature – users frequently become disconnected from the service, some as often as every 5 minutes. Worse yet, they have no indication that they are disconnected until they try to send a message to another user.

"Every five minutes or less, it goes down, but it still shows you as being online," explained Bryan Martin, a network engineer at the CRI Technical Solutions division of the Carr, Riggs, Ingram LLP accounting firm, in Panama City, Fla. "Its getting pretty annoying."

Martin upgraded 20 PCs in his office from Windows 98 to XP and subscribed those PCs to XPs automatic upgrade service. The PCs were upgraded to Windows Messenger 4.6 from 4.5 about a month ago, he said. Employees use Windows Messenger for instant messaging. But since upgrading to 4.6, theyve had to rely on the telephone and e-mail for intra-office communications.

"4.5 is fine," said Martin. "It still works. My fathers using it and hes online all day long. I cant stay online more than 5 minutes.

"You go up to 4.6 and it screws up. But weve already upgraded. You cant reverse it now and go back to 4.5."

Other users report similar problems.

"It looks like youre connected, but when you go to IM someone, youre not connected," said Ken Knight, president of IT consultancy Help Consulting, in Piedmont, S.C. "You need to re-sign in.

"Something really strange is going on," Knight said.

Windows Messenger Web bulletin boards are lit up by users with similar complaints and have been for several weeks.

But thats not the worst of it for Knight. His two-man firm had been using the VOIP (Voice over IP) support in NetMeeting (a component of Windows 2000) to make PC-to-phone calls, saving on its telephone bill, a key advantage for a small business. But since upgrading to Windows XP, which replaces NetMeeting with Windows Messenger, Help Consulting has had to invest in a business-calling plan, even though Microsoft touted Windows Messengers PC-to-phone support in XP last October.

"XP completely stopped VoIP for PC-to-phone calls. It was fine before we installed XP. But since we upgraded to XP we cant make PC-to-phone calls. Weve had to go back to the regular phone," Knight said. "It really doesnt make any sense whatsoever."

Windows Messenger users whove subscribed to Microsofts .Net Alerts service, for things like weather and traffic updates, are also growing increasingly frustrated and disappointed.

Paul Bateau, a consumer user of .Net Alerts in Buffalo, N.Y., subscribes to the CarPoint traffic alerts to plan his route to and from work each day. Hes had to fly blind for the past month and a half as the alerts have stopped coming.

Bateau said he feels his problem is somehow intertwined with other problems users are having, like the disconnections. And he blames it on .Net.

"I feel that the problem is bigger than just something with the newness of the software," said Bateau. "I feel the problem is with the .Net services in itself. I think a lot more widespread testing should be done in order to make sure the services that they are planning on offering work reliably.

"If they ever want to charge a fee for this service, I for one would not pay anything for it if this is how things are going to be."

Bateau isnt alone in his suspicions about .Net. Derrick Phan, a network administrator in the Educational Technology Center of the Punahou School in Honolulu, said he tested Windows Messenger on Windows 98, ME, 2000 and XP, as well as Mac OS 9 and X. The problem with the disconnects is present on all of them.

"Based on what I learned from testing Messenger on many different [operating systems], I believe this is not a normal issue with new software but there is a bigger problem with .Net servers," Phan said. "This is not a problem locally on the user machine or private network but I believe its something to do with [the] Microsoft .Net server where Microsoft keeps track of the Passport accounts."

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company was unaware of any changes between Version 4.5 and Version 4.6 of the Windows Messenger client that would cause these connectivity issues. She also provided eWEEK Online with a statement that read:

"Microsoft is aware that some users may be having issues with connectivity. Microsoft will continue to listen to and evaluate customer feedback while taking the steps to help resolve these issues as quickly as possible. The service is updated continually to provide the best possible experience for users and Microsoft recommends that users who have not already done so update to the latest available client for the best experience."

The company also issued a statement earlier this week saying it was aware of the disconnect problem and working to correct it.

Users quoted in this story said theyve found Microsoft technical support mostly unresponsive.

"I sent Microsoft three messages and my problem still has not been resolved," said Phan.

"Theyve done absolutely zip," offered Knight.

Despite the growing frustration level, users remain committed to Microsofts products.

"We could probably back off XP, but it seems like we gotta be there," said Knight. "We want to get this figured out."

Martin could easily give his users a different instant messaging client, such as AOL Time Warner Inc.s AOL Instant Messenger or Yahoo Inc.s Yahoo Messenger. But hes hoping to get the problems with Windows Messenger resolved instead.

"Everythings integrated with XP, we wanted to use [Windows Messenger]," he said.