Are Yahoo, AOL, and MSN messaging clients taking too many liberties?

Are Yahoo, AOL, and MSN messaging clients taking too many liberties?

Summary: It wasn't until last week that a recent story about how Yahoo Instant Messenger (YIM) users were getting more than they bargained for started to ring true for me.


It wasn't until last week that a recent story about how Yahoo Instant Messenger (YIM) users were getting more than they bargained for started to ring true for me.  But, by the time it did, I was worked up in a huff.  Not just about YIM.  But about AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM) and Microsoft's MSN Messenger as well.  As's Stefanie Olsen pointed out, there's a battle for our desktops taking place and the lengths to which companies like Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, and Google will go to win keep getting extended.  Wrote Olsen:

Yahoo isn't the only company employing aggressive means to promote their applications and services, nor is it the first. Big companies including MSN and America Online and smaller firms like RealNetworks and Claria have long taken the opportunity to push other tools or features when users install their software.

Push, indeed.  In raising the bar, Yahoo pushed a "highly recommended" update out to its instant messaging users that, in my case, desperately wanted to install additional Yahoo-provided software including a toolbar that Yahoo  wants to enhance my browsing experience with.   I took the update, but had to drill down into some dialogs to decline the remaining bloat and even checked a box that said something like "Don't ask me again."  Although I can't explain how or why (it might have had something to do with running multiple browsers) , I was asked again and now, somehow, I not only have the updated YIM client, but the toolbar as well.  It turned up in Firefox and for now, since I don't know how to remove it, I've just unchecked it in Firefox's view menu.  But my troubles didn't end there.

msntoday.jpgIn what is probably Yahoo's most sophisticated IM client to date (including new voice features), is undoubtedly some additional complexity.  One sign that this isn't the old basic barebones YIM client from days of old is that it (or part of it -- the part called YPager.exe) keeps crashing on me.   At first, it did this at random times and I was able to escape crashdom with minimal harm.  But more recently, it's crashing around the same time that a whole bunch of other software and/or drivers are trying to load or activate themselves (for example, when I cold boot the system or bring it out of standby).  Bootups in particular have been troublesome because, at least in my case, when something crashes during bootup, my system as a whole begins to misbehave and sometimes can't successfully finish booting.  Again, I can't explain why, but sometimes, the only way my ThinkPad can recover from a botched boot like that is to unplug it from the wall and remove and reseat the battery.  

AIMToday.jpgLast night however, the situation further deteriorated when, for a while, my system just couldn't make it all the way through it's boot process.  In each of the fail attempts, I watched as all three instant messaging clients -- YIM, AIM, and MSN -- did something I didn't want them to do.  YIM was crashing.  AIM and MSN, both of which I recently updated -- apparently undid the preferences I set for them last time and were now forcing the activation of AIM Today (see screenshot, left) and MSN Today (above right). The reason I disabled the sort of autoloading of Web pages and other dialogues in the first place was because of how it was interfering with the bootup of my system.

For starters, it's absurd that it's 2005 and the three instant messaging systems are still incompatible with one another.  Imagine if they were? Then, at the very least, we might have only one piece of software trying to shove additional revenue generating bloat down our throats.  Instead, now I have a very boot-process unfriendly three. 

OK, so that' not changing anytime soon.  I understand that in their instant messaging services, AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft are providing a certain amount of free utility.  But milking their loyalists in this way -- above and beyond the accoutrements that already weigh down these once utilitarian pieces of software -- will come back to haunt them.  Many for example, will do what I did today. Whereas before, all of the IM clients automatically loaded when Windows booted, now none of them do and I've been spending more of my IM-time on Skype. Of course, now that Skype has been acquired by eBay, it's probably only a matter of time before the relatively spartan Skype user experience gets polluted and piggybacked  like the rest.  As I wrote in my treatise (over in ZDNet's Vistulations blog) about what Vista must do to give users and administrators a better handle on the Windows start-up situation, "...if I have to trade-in faster boot up times, a cleaner (my preference is spartan) user experience, and ultimately the stability of my system for the utility they and other software vendors have to offer, then no thanks."  In other words, they'll get turned off too.  I'm sure I'm not alone in this feeling.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • All 3 will fail

    You initially mentioned Google in your discussion but never followed up. Firstly,why do you think that MSN, Yahoo and AOL are all fighting so hard to be on your desktop? I mean, the services are free, so why push so hard to win you over? Well, as my grampy always said, "nothing's free". The price you pay are those undesireables that arise from reboots and shutdowns. AOL, MSN, and Yahoo provide upgrades, which in computer talk means more scripts, more code, more spyware and more complications - which in turn lead to more headaches, for you. When I used them, (Ive used all 3), I felt like I was in a disco; with all the flashing and brightness.

    All the while, Google, who has grown into the greatest and soon to spurt into the most dominant company of all time, releases a simple, clean, very light chat client. Its simplicity is almost eery. No crashes, no banners, no flashing, no bulk, no problems. And when you click a box that says, 'dont ask me again', Google doesn't. AOL,MSN, and Yahoo are munchkins compared to the Great Oz (before the exposure behind the curtain).
  • I HATE that they do that.

    It doesn't endear them to me and I DEFINITELY look elsewhere for products. Companies can't really expect to make more money or garner more mindshare with bullying tactics. And they're certainly not going to lose share to their rivals because it is a HATED method. Everyone I know feels the same way. Aggressive techniques works against them.
  • Why start the IMs before you want to use them?

    But if you want to have all three running immediately, use the StartRight program ( linked in the other blog and make them start separately instead of in unison.

    If they still want to fight it out, use the interval feature to give them more time as they start.

    You might have added, by the way, that MSN Messenger starts with Hotmail unless, like me, you use the Option to keep it turned off.
    Also on MSN, there's an option to turn off MSN Today when it starts. I even managed to get rid of the ads and alerts.

    Might be more difficult to do that with AOL; I noticed a program I can find again and link that will eliminate the AOL ads.

    I even know a way to get onto SBC dial-up or DSL without adding a single piece of Yahoo software.

    In sum, people with the same problems have discovered ways or written programs to solve them. My daughter once commented that Human society exists so that people will have someone to complain to. In this case, like others, we can add Or solve the problem.
    Anton Philidor
    • Can Joe average do it?

      Sure you can turn some of it off or load yet another application to handle the bad applications. But can Joe Average user do it? More importantly should he have to?

      I'd sure like to see Vista allow only one way (the start up folder?) to fire an app during boot up and give control of this mess back to the user.
      • Joe Average is pleased.

        A separate application is better than msconfig because it's easier to use.

        The hard part is always getting the user to do something other than complain. As we have read, some people will let their helpers switch them to Linux, with all its attendant sorrows, rather than learn how to control Windows for themselves.

        So giving "control of this mess back to the user" is often the last thing the user wants. At least give him a GUI.

        Remember, too, that Microsoft has to allow for programs which require starting with Windows.
        A program like QuickTime is as bad as any spyware with its insistence on trying to become default for many formats, inserting itself into the startup queue, and reinserting itself when the user tries to block it.
        Should Microsoft threaten Apple with not allowing QuickTime to run?

        So Microsoft has to trust applications developers to make restrained choices about starting with Windows. What else could they do?
        Anton Philidor
  • multiclient open source applications

    i have accounts in 4 major IM networks (+ participate in IRC channels) and i am happy with GAIM. one application does all. it's rather stable product. in my view Gaim is better client than any commercial IM. no additional toolbars in my Firefox, no plugins and you can unistall the application any moment or not to run it.
    GAIM does what you need it to do - chat.

    about Skype there is an open source alternative see

    this is our choise today. start to use Open Source alternatives. when you need a solution and you start to google for "IM client add words "Open Source". Open Source today has more answers for you than any i mean ANY single commercial company in the world.
    • Only if all you use is text chat.

      Voice chat, file transfer, web cam, etc. are incompatible. sigh...
      • For some people, thats's all they want and need (nt)

        nt = no text
  • David use MSConfig

    All you need to do is go to start>run>type msconfig in the box and then hit enter..

    go to the startup tab and prevent whichever IM you want to prevent from starting up.

    i really don't need the reason to start all three IMs during startup. the situation is similar when you have more than one anti-virus software installed on a system, they simply botch each other.

    talking about intrusive behavior, ZDNet seems to be the same. i am always asked to update my profile when logging in for absolutely no reason. do you have any thoughts on that?
  • To get rid of all the bloat

    GAIM is a basic text-based nessenger compatible with all three protocols. None of the bloat, just good old text-based chat.

    There [i]is[/i] the occasional time when somebody tries to use an advanced feature and wonders why I'm not responding to their request. Usually easily explained, though.

    I am considering going back to Yahoo for their new voice feature, now that it acts like a telephone instead of a 2-way radio.
    • You may not like it but...

      MSN Messenger voice chat has AOL beat hands down. The feedback canceling (speakers feeding the mic) is excellent as is voice quality. Just don't try to use either with dial up. <g>
      • RE: You may not like it but...

        MSN Messenger does not have any voice support in its OS X version. That is very bad. YIM is also lacking this feature. iChat is great in that respect and can be used to communicate with AIM, but not with MSN messngr. Even Skype for Mac is available and works well. MSN Messenger for Mac OS X sucks!
      • I said Yahoo, not AOL . . .

        First off, pay attention, I said Yahoo, not AOL.

        Yahoo recently came out with a new kind of voice where you make a PC-to-PC "phone call" and it acts just like a real phone with both people talking at the same time, none of that radio-like push-to-talk stuff. I'm guessing they're probably using VoIP technology or something similar.

        Secondly, I usually use headphones anyways, so I don't have problems with feedback in the first place.
        • Yes, Yahoo is catching up.

          But the voice quality still falls behind MSN Messenger.

          Yeah, I have all three on my desktop to support other people.
          • I havn't had trouble with either one

            Found the voice quality to be the same on both. But then I think it really depends on your set up, hardware wise. MSN does seem more fogiving in terms of where you mic and speakers are.
      • Too bad MSN craps out with Web Cams

        It like you start up the Web Cam and you get random number of minutes till it craps out. If you can finish before that unknown number or minutes goes by you are fine.

        MSN with Web cams are the only thing I've ever seen Lock up both Win2K and XP so bad that you have to do a hard reboot by cutting the power. Haven't experienced this with Yahoo but then I don't like Yahoo and don't use it much.
        • Never seen the problem.

          Perhaps you need to update your web cam driver?
          • That's possible I suppose

            But mutliple cams from differnt vendors on multiple installation of XP and W2K on differnt hardware all having the same problem. I doubt it's driver issue.

            My guess is cheap web cams in general and MSN not being able to handle the hardware locking up when it overloads due to too much data. Just my guess.

            Still it shouldn't lock the entire computer up like that.
      • ICQ was the best

        Probably still would be too if it weren't for SPIM.

        Anyway, I was doing voice chat and web cam stuff plus tons more on ICQ back in 1999. Then 2002 came and SPIM killed it. Still MSN, Yahoo, and AIM have yet to catch up to what ICQ was in 2002.
        • I think you should test

          The newer version of MSN Messenger.