Messenger: haves and hA/Ve nots

By now, some of you have heard the news.  Today we launched Messenger for Mac 6.0, our first Universal application!  It includes some exciting things, like federation with Yahoo, the ability to show “what I’m listening to” on my iTunes and a spell checker (yea!) as well as features that have been long standing requests like support for animated and custom emoticons.  However, I know a number of you are bound to ask: “Where is A/V in Messenger for Mac!?!”

I said in my first blog entry that I’d try to shed light on how feature decisions get made, give you some examples, and address why A/V isn’t in this release.

The short version:  we are working on it.

Right now, Windows Live Messenger (WLM) and Live Communications Server (LCS), are not quite in sync on their audio and video technologies. But, they are on a path to join up and move to a shared protocol in upcoming releases.  Rather than write two sets of code only to have to throw one away in the coming months, we’re writing that common protocol for the Mac, and as we all converge we’ll have A/V in Messenger for Mac*.

For those of you who want to know more about the background of the quest for Messenger A/V, read on.

 As we do our product planning, there are a bunch of sometimes conflicting things that we need to consider.  Things like:

  • The mission of the MacBU – how does the proposed work support our mission of creating the most compatible productivity software for our customers
  • Microsoft corporate strategies and where and how we support them
  • Customer research that gives us data to helps us prioritize where we focus
  • The technology situation – what opportunities and limitations do we face in trying to do particular types of features

Here are two quick examples of how these have applied to Messenger for Mac. Then we’ll get on to the A/V specifics.

Supporting the MacBU mission – great productivity software

One example is the work we did to have your Messenger buddies in the track changes balloons in Word if they’re logged in to Messenger.  It’s easier (aka you can be more productive) to be able to click on the icon and start a chat so that you can clarify the changes or input someone made on your document rather than having to send an email and wait for a response, or put your own comments in and send it for review and wait for an answer, or worse yet, make changes in the document only to find out when you re-send it for review that you completely misunderstood the feedback. (Admit it – we’ve all done that at least a time or two!)

Supporting Microsoft strategies

The work we did to support LCS is another example.  More and more companies are concerned about how work information gets sent via IM. Their concerns could be about security during file transfer, or the desire to be able to centrally log and audit what’s being sent. Some just want one easy way to manage both internal and external IM-ing in one application, which LCS provides.  For their Mac users, having Messenger provide LCS functionality makes it easy for them to address these concerns.

Getting down to A/V

When it comes to adding A/V to Messenger, the biggest hurdle we face is technology integration.  Working against us are the facts that WLM and LCS aren’t completely synced on the audio and video technologies in their RTC stacks (the protocols for audio and video transmission), the fact that we have to do significant work to the RTC stacks in order to have them work on the Mac OS, and the reality that the time it would take to write two versions of the stacks makes it nearly impossible to keep up with the WLM and LCS release cycles.  It’s a bit like trying to create a new cell phone that uses analog technology knowing that by the time you’re ready, the service provides will be switching to digital networks. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. (OK, I haven’t hit on the perfect analogy, but you get the idea.)

The good news is that since WLM and LCS are now on track to sync up their protocols,  we think we have enough time before they get there to write it for the Mac OS.  The upside to not trying to shoehorn A/V into 6.0 is that we could get some really good features, like Yahoo federation, spelling, our first universal binary, and custom and animated emoticon support.  And at the same time, we don’t spend a year or more writing protocols that we have to rip out and re-write.  Of course there are always trade-offs, which in this case include releasing Messenger 6.0 without A/V support, and the possibility that when we do get to A/V, we may see it on the LCS side slightly before we see it on the WLM side. (I know, I know, some of you don’t like that order.  Hopefully all three team’s schedules will align at the same time but that isn’t a certainty.)

But there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Our dev team has made good progress on the audio and video protocol work already, and at this point we feel confident that we’ll be able to stay in sync with the LCS and WLM transitions. And then, yes then, we’ll happily announce a version of Messenger for Mac, with A/V support!

*The mouse type I have to include since we’re talking about features that haven’t shipped yet: 

Features and timing are a MacBU estimation based on information provided by other Microsoft teams. This information relates to pre-release software product, which may be substantially modified before its first commercial release. Accordingly, the information may not accurately describe or reflect the software product or timing when first commercially released. This post is provided for informational purposes only, and Microsoft makes no warranties, express or implied, with respect to this post or the information contained in it. And there you have it.