Microsoft Urges Messenger Upgrade

UPDATE: Move sparked by security concerns in older versions of the software.

The upgrade clock is ticking for users of Microsoft Corp.s MSN Messenger and Windows Messenger. Those using older versions of the popular instant-messaging clients have until Oct. 15 to upgrade or they will lose access to the .NET Messenger Service.

Microsoft, which began informing affected users by e-mail on Monday, is requiring the Messenger updates because of security concerns in the older versions of the software, said spokesman Sean Sundwall. The Redmond, Wash., software maker is discontinuing support for Windows versions older than MSN Messenger v.5.0 or the latest versions of Windows Messenger v.4.7.2009.

Sundwall said this weeks move came as a result of a retesting of the security stacks of the older Messenger clients conducted after the company added more security features in newer releases. Microsofts most recent release was MSN Messenger 6.0 in June. Microsoft officials, which wouldnt specify the number of users being required to upgrade, said the upgrades will affect fewer than 30 percent of the Messenger clients.

"Weve recognized that there are some security issues in older versions based on older security technology were using for those clients that we need to remedy and require an upgrade to more robust and recent versions," Sundwall said.

He declined to pinpoint the specific security concerns, saying that disclosing any details before the upgrade cutoff date could open the door to attacks.

Some non-Windows users will be losing access to the Messenger service all together. As of Oct. 15, Microsoft is discontinuing support for MSN Messenger for Mac on OS 8.x and for MSN Messenger for MSN Companion, the companys Web appliance. An upgrade will be available next week for Mac users using MSN Messenger for Mac OS 9, while users on Mac OS X v.3.5 and greater are unaffected.

Microsoft has informed its business partners about the changes, but users of instant-messaging platforms from third parties that dont have formal agreements with Microsoft—such as Cerulean Studios Trillian—will lose access to the network, Sundwall said.

Microsoft business partner IMLogic Inc.—whose software helps enterprises control, archive and manage instant messages—is one Microsoft business partner that has told its customers about the upgrade requirement. The largest enterprise users will face the biggest headache in trying to upgrade, said IMLogic President and CEO Francis deSouza. He suggests that they contact Microsoft to work out a smoother path for upgrading than one-off downloads on each desktop.

"By and large, most people will just upgrade, and it will be no problem at all," said deSouza, in Waltham, Mass. "There are a small number of larger customers that may have a problem with the timeframe."

Microsofts move is one of the only times an instant-messaging vendor has specifically pushed an upgrade for security reasons, deSouza said.

"This is a major milestone for industry because it shows that Microsoft is taking instant messaging seriously and saying they believe it is an enterprise-class medium," he said.

Details on the upgrade options are available at All upgrades are free of charge and typically take less than a minute to install on high-speed connections and less than five minutes on dial-up connections, Sundwall said.

Along with the e-mail messages sent this week, users who do not upgrade will receive reminders when they log in to Messenger beginning on Sept. 18 until the Oct. 15 cutoff.

(Editors Note: This story has been updated since its original posting to include comments from IMLogic officials and more details from Microsoft on the scope of the Messenger clients affected.)