Looking for peace, love, and harmony - IM style

I have a love-hate relationship with instant-messaging software. It’s a great way to stay in touch with editors, co-authors, and friends.

I have a love-hate relationship with instant-messaging software. It’s a great way to stay in touch with editors, co-authors, and friends. It’s also a great way to lose focus during the course of the working day. When I’m working on a project, the benefits generally outweigh the hassles, so I grit my teeth and log on.

The trouble is, IM services are still balkanized. How would you feel if you had to use a half-dozen proprietary e-mail client programs to communicate with everybody on your list of correspondents? That, unfortunately, is still the case with IM software. My co-authors on Windows Vista Inside Out use Windows Live Messenger, my editor at ZDNet uses Yahoo Messenger, and some of my trusted contacts are fans of Google’s Gmail Chat or Skype. I’m sure there are still AOL IM users on my contact list, too, as well as some diehard IRCers. If I want to remain in contact with all of them, I have to load three or more messaging clients and dedicate a full-time browser window to Gmail. Ugh.

Several years ago, I used Trillian, which did a pretty good job of bridging the gap between the AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and IRC/ICQ worlds, despite an extended battle with AOL, which would change its connection settings and break Trillian’s software for hours or days at a time. They’re still around, but they don’t do Gmail Chat or Skype, nor do they support some of the more advanced features of each proprietary messaging client.

Yesterday, Microsoft officially released its latest IM client, Windows Live Messenger, after a fairly lengthy beta period, and Yahoo released a beta of its new messenger client. I’ll have more on Windows Live Messenger later this week, but for now the most encouraging news is this tidbit from the announcement page:

Soon: talk to your Yahoo! friends, too
Soon you'll be able to use Windows Live Messenger to talk to your friends who use Yahoo! Messenger with Voice. The world's largest IM network is getting even bigger.

That’s a surprise I wasn’t expecting. (I missed the original announcement last October.) According to one Microsoft blogger, the code is done and the Live-to-Yahoo connection should be available soon:

As it turns out, it’s been a hard problem to solve, and the team has been working hard,  I still don’t know exactly when you’re going to be able to start adding those Yahoo! Buddies to your WL Messenger, but it can’t be much longer.  Last week I got to check out a fully functional version of WL Messenger which could exchange IMs with a fully functional version of Yahoo!

They’ve still got some work to do – specifically final testing. But soon, Windows Live people will be IMing with Yahoo! people and the world will be that much closer to universal love, peace, and harmony!

Well, maybe. The Yahoo-Microsoft deal is a good first step, joining the #2 and #3 players in the IM space, but no one seems to be the least bit interested in establishing a standard that all IM clients can use to communicate with one another. Utopia doesn’t arrive until Google and AOL join the drum circle. And something tells me that’s going to be a long time coming.