RealTime IT News

Microsoft OKs Logitech Video for MSN Messenger

Logitech's video IM has gone legit.

Personal computer peripheral maker Logitech and Microsoft are working together to provide a co-branded Webcam interface to the Redmond, Wash.-based software behemoth's MSN Messenger IM network client.

The move brings legitimacy to Logitech's IM Video Companion application, which the Fremont, Calif.-based firm -- a leader in the low-cost personal PC video camera space with about half of the market share -- had been offering for free to users of its Webcams since last year. The program works with third-party cameras as well as those sold by Logitech.

However, the application -- which runs alongside MSN Messenger or America Online's AOL Instant Messenger, works through most firewalls and NATs, and enables users to send invites to online Buddies inviting them to view their camera -- had been offered without endorsement or authorization by either IM network.

(The other major IM network, Yahoo! Instant Messenger supports Webcams, including Logitech's, and has been working with the firm since mid-2001 in co-marketing and technology arrangements.)

The scene has changed now that Logitech has a formalized agreement with MSN. The application will also be integrated with Messenger in the "I Want To" panel in Messenger's chat windows. Microsoft will be promoting the application, while Logitech will provide multiple-language versions of the rebranded application -- now dubbed "Webcam for MSN Messenger."

Logitech also said it would host the connection service that supports the feature.

"We are adding real-time visual communication to further compliment our already rich feature set and help make the functionality easy to access and use," said Raja Abburi, director of MSN Messenger at Microsoft. "We believe that this enhancement will further drive the popularity of our service."

Logitech and Microsoft have, in fact, collaborated since 2001, when the Webcam manufacturer participated in the Windows XP launch and announced compatibility with the new operating system. That work helped pave the way for the agreement with MSN.

"The Companion strategy was a great stepping stone towards bringing this experience to other IMs," Friedricks said. "We built on that with the folks with MSN. Like us, they realized that users wanted a more integrated experience -- that they didn't want to leave their primary application environment to get their video."

The two companies said they would work together in the future on exploring unspecified, "richer" ways in which live video can be further enhanced and integrated into MSN Messenger.

It's the first time that MSN Messenger supports video-sharing internally; to date, it has offered Webcam support through a menu option to launch an external application, Windows NetMeeting.

The effort is expected to dramatically boost the penetration of video-enabled IM -- which has been found to be popular among IM users. Yahoo! said last year -- in connection with announcing its broadband SuperWebcam feature -- that after only a year in service, it had more than 6 million video and IM users.

"We came to realize very quickly from our work with Yahoo! a few years ago that real-time video communications over IM is a killer app," said Bruce Friedricks, director of product marketing for Logitech's Video Business Unit. "The growth of that among the Yahoo! user base has been tremendous."

The opposite also holds true, as it seems likely for Webcam fans to be driven to choose MSN Messenger over competitors like AOL Instant Messenger. Logitech, which stands to benefit from access to Microsoft's 75 million-plus MSN Messenger users, said almost 90 percent of the registered owners of its flagship QuickCam Webcam are on instant messaging. Thus, adding Webcam functionality to MSN Messenger could represent a major differentiator in the highly competitive consumer IM wars.

The deal does not lock Logitech in with Microsoft. However, the firm declined to go into detail about its plans for video-enabling other IM networks, saying instead that it plans to concentrate in the short-term on enhancing its integration with MSN.

"Our desire is to make sure all major IMs have this video capability," Friedricks said. "We see it's a great user experience and that it will lead to sales of cameras."

The agreement also continues the increasing integration of multimedia with instant messaging. Earlier this month, Microsoft introduced beta versions of its Greenwich server-based enterprise collaboration solution and platform, and its threedegrees peer-to-peer music- and photo-sharing application. Both initiatives are based on instant messaging and presence functionality, but layer on additional features.

AOL, for its part, has never indicated that it intends to add video functionality to its existing AIM network or clients.

"All I can say is that Webcam support is something that we're looking at, but we have announced no plans to support," said an America Online spokesperson.

For one thing, doing so might represent an effort to deploy "advanced, IM-based high-speed services" functions over its proprietary instant messaging network -- which, according to conditions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission on America Online's merger with Time Warner, could require AOL to open its IM network to allow for server-to-server interoperability with competing networks.

It's not clear whether the FCC stipulations would apply to video-enabled IM, although the FCC did single out videoconferencing over broadband as one condition that would require AOL to provide interoperability.

It's also unclear whether the conditions will continue to apply under the current FCC, with its G.O.P. majority. At the time of its passing in early January, the agency's three Democrat and two Republican commissioners split on issues surrounding AOL instant messaging along party lines; FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, and a commissioner at the time, dissented from the IM stipulation.

While the FCC's ruling is enforceable indefinitely, AOL Time Warner is allowed to ask for the restrictions to be lifted, by demonstrating that the conditions for its providing advanced, high-speed IM-based services no longer serve the public interest because there has been a "material change" in circumstances.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.