RealTime IT News

MSN Messenger Users Cope with Spotty Service

Users of Microsoft's .NET Messenger Service faced several hours of being unable to log on during Monday, reviving concerns about the reliability of public instant messaging networks -- even as the software giant and its rivals seek to encourage businesses to employ such services.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft said the .NET Messenger Service was down over a period of hours beginning Monday morning. The outage impacted worldwide users of MSN Messenger, Microsoft's instant messaging application, rendering it impossible to log on to the network. It also affected Windows Messenger, the messaging application built into Windows XP.

Some users of both services reported sporadic success in being able to log on, but for most, the service remained unavailable until mid-afternoon. That posed troubles ranging from mild frustration to hours of agony for users, who complained publicly on MSN's support forums.

"I have business contacts that I need to talk to in Asia at 7:00 p.m. our time today, and I need this service," wrote one user.

"Using [MSN Messenger] for anything mission-critical or confidential is as reckless as relying on a Hotmail account for business mail," another posted.

Microsoft spokespeople have yet to indicate how many of the service's users were affected. The company has said in the past that it has about 75 million registered users of the service.

Some users also reported difficulties signing onto MSN Hotmail, although Microsoft did not report ay problems with its Passport authentication service, which provides the login services for Hotmail and MSN Messenger.

Company spokespeople said the company continues to investigate the problems. Additionally, a statement posted on the service's site that Microsoft is working on "an update ... in place in the near future" to resolve the issues with the service..

"Providing a quality experience to our end users is our top priority," the company said in the statement. "We are working as quickly as possible to update the Messenger Service to resolve issues that some of our users have been experiencing with connectivity."

The problems also caused an unexpected surge in Web traffic to Microsoft's support sites and .NET Messenger Service status Web page. As a result, for much of the day, the pages were updated infrequently or entirely unavailable. When the status page again became available on Monday afternoon, it indicated the service had been suffering from but "Minor difficulties."

The service problem is but the latest plaguing Microsoft. Last week, the company's Passport service began denying access to a small number of users -- rendering it impossible for them to sign onto Hotmail or MSN Messenger. The problem was fixed within hours.

Additionally, during several days in late November, Microsoft said "a small number" of users suffered corrupted data -- resulting in empty or missing Contact Lists. Most of those affected files eventually were fixed automatically, the company said.

The incidents illustrate one of the chief pitfalls facing businesses for which IM is a critical way to communicate -- namely, that the system's reliability and access is beyond the enterprise's control.

The episode is particularly embarrassing for Microsoft, which is competing with America Online and Yahoo! in the instant messaging space. In recent weeks, the three companies have sought to capitalize on the growing momentum of enterprise instant messaging by unveiling offerings that enable businesses to manage their employees' use of the public IM networks.

However, such products -- which includes MSN Messenger Connect for Enterprises -- become useless for external communication if the public network itself goes down, as was the case Monday.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.

How can enterprises safely rely on instant messaging for mission-critical communications? Join us at the Instant Messaging Planet Spring Conference and Expo, Feb. 24 and 25 in Boston. Sessions include "Deploying Enterprise IM" and "Public IM: Good Enough for your Business?"