Windows Messenger Woes

Plagued by spotty IM connections, VOIP loss, many blame .Net Framework.

Dropped IM connections, loss of VOIP capabilities, spotty delivery of .Net Alerts—all are problems users are having with Microsoft Corp.s Windows Messenger real-time communications platform.

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

Windows Messenger supports instant messaging, video and audio conferencing, and PC telephony. Like many other Microsoft products, it runs on the Redmond, Wash., companys .Net Web services delivery architecture.

Messenger became integrated with Microsofts desktop operating system for the first time with the release in October of Windows XP. Users problems began shortly thereafter.

The most prevalent problem users are having is with IM in the current version of Windows Messenger, Version 4.6. After upgrading to 4.6—through Windows XPs automatic upgrades feature—users said they 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 5 minutes or less, it goes down, but it still shows you as being online," said 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 got Windows Messenger 4.6. Since upgrading to 4.6, employees have had to use the telephone and e-mail for intra-office communications instead of IM.

"4.5 is fine," Martin said. "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."

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

But thats not the worst of it for Ken Knight, president of IT consultancy Help Consulting. His two-man company had been using VOIP (voice-over-IP) support in NetMeeting (a component of Windows 2000) to make PC-to-phone calls. But since upgrading to Windows XP, which promotes Windows Messenger as the VOIP platform of choice (though it still includes NetMeeting), Help Consulting has had to invest in a business-calling plan.

"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," said Knight, in Piedmont, S.C.

Windows Messenger users who have subscribed to Microsofts .Net Alerts service, for things such as weather and traffic updates, have also reported spotty service at best.

Derrick Phan, a network administrator in the Educational Technology Center of the Punahou School in Honolulu, tested Windows Messenger on Windows 98, ME, 2000 and XP, as well as Mac OS 9 and OS X. The disconnection problem is present on all of them.

"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 changes in Version 4.6 that would cause these connectivity issues but added that the company was addressing these problems.

"Microsoft recommends that users who have not already done so update to the latest available client for the best experience," the spokeswoman said.