Windows Messenger: The Gateway To VoIP?
Now that my father has discovered the benefits of instant messaging, I
think I can safely say that the majority of people with Internet access
have at least tried this technology for text chat. I remember when I first
began using ICQ (now owned by AOL)
in 1997. After moving from Connecticut to Oregon, it was a great way to
stay in touch with family and friends on the East Coast without the hassle
and prearrangement required to meet up in a chat room. And now that I'm
back in Connecticut, I use AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) to chat with my
parents in Oregon. Each of AOL's two messaging clients has its own merits,
and I actually prefer ICQ because I think it's easier to navigate and
exchange files and URLs. I don't understand why the company hasn't
consolidated the two clients and created one giant pool of users, but
perhaps a plan to do this is in the works.
In any event, sometimes text chat is no substitute for the nuances and
inflections audible when speaking on the phone; yet it's free, as long
as you're already paying for an Internet connection. Free PC voice calls
are also enabled using both AIM and ICQ, although not as
widely used as text messaging. But that could be about to change, as Microsoft
is ready to take PC voice into the mainstream with Windows Messenger, a
voice-enabled instant messaging platform that will be bundled with its XP
operating system, scheduled for availability on October 25.
According to Microsoft, Messenger supports Session Initiation Protocol
(SIP), a departure from the NetMeeting messaging client, which supported
H.323 for VoIP calls. NetMeeting 3.0 was bundled with the Windows 2000
operating system, but many in the industry believe the SIP choice for
Messenger will propel the protocol into mainstream acceptance. Messenger
uses the Microsoft .NET Messenger Service to work with nearly 32 million
MSN Messenger users, and can also use .NET Enterprise Servers or work with
third-party SIP servers. It enables users to participate in voice and
video communication, text chat, and data collaboration, notifies users
when their contacts are online, and offers a Remote Assistance feature so
users can quickly obtain online help.
Microsoft's Windows Messenger, a voice- and
video-enabled IM solution.
Microsoft believes Messenger will enable new types of interaction like
multiplayer gaming and customer relationship management (CRM). The client
offers built-in echo cancellation to reduce feedback for audio calls, and
Microsoft plans an upgrade to support PC-to-phone calls through users'
service provider of choice. It also offers about 70 ms of delay, as well
as a variety of codecs.
Voice chat capability in instant messaging is nothing new, and
NetMeeting has supported PC calling for years now. ICQ also supports
PC-to-PC, phone-to-PC, and PC-to-phone calling with the ICQphone, and ICQ
and AIM both incorporate Net2Phone's
technology to enable PC calls. But Microsoft is banking on an easy user
interface and visibility on the desktop to propel Messenger, and
multimedia messaging, into the mainstream. And it is also marketing
Messenger as a platform for the development of enhanced multimedia
applications and services -- not just as an instant messaging client. In
an interview with CNET, Bill Gates spoke about NetMeeting, "We have
had this feature in Windows called NetMeeting, but it was obscure enoughand
various things were hard about it. We are taking NetMeeting and making it
mainstream with Windows XP."
There are a lot of unanswered questions about Windows Messenger, such
as whether the voice capability will work through a firewall (always an
important issue for me and my always-on cable connection at home). But
whether or not Microsoft wins the instant messaging wars with this new
client, it's sure to bring VoIP and multimedia capabilities to consumers
and enterprises that otherwise would not have known about it.
Laura Guevin welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.