Having just been coerced into replacing Windows Live Messenger with Skype, I now have more questions than answers. Haven't Microsoft learnt anything about integration?
I booted up my laptop this morning and, as per usual, Windows Live Messenger started up at the same time. Now, I normally let Messenger just sit there in the taskbar without any input from me, and it alerts me whenever I've received a new email. These days I mostly use Skype for instant messaging, so Messenger is really only used for email alerts. This morning I accidentally clicked on the Messenger icon on my taskbar and when the window opened I noticed it telling me that there was a new version of Messenger available, did I wish to download it.
Not one to be left behind I readily clicked to install this new version.
It re-installed the same version of Skype that I already had.
I wasn't too surprised because I've been reading over the past couple of days that Microsoft is now going ahead with pushing Skype in place of Messenger, and that Messenger is being phased out. I now find myself quite frustrated with the way this exercise has been carried out, and I'll explain why.
I sign into Windows 8 using my Outlook/Windows Live account. The benefits of this are that the lock screen can tell me if there are new emails (sounds like a good idea but is it really that important to know during logging-in whether I have new emails or not?) and, I believe, but haven't tried it out, that if I go to another Win8 machine and sign in with the same username, I should get the same environment (though presumably not the same desktop applications?). Anyway, the point here is that I login to this machine using my Outlook/Windows Live account, so the operating system knows who I am.
So how come when I started up Skype it asked me to enter my Microsoft account details? Doesn't it know who I am?
Shouldn't it automatically pull down my profile image that's associated with my Windows account?
With Messenger I was able to connect to my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and view all the contacts from those places. Not so with Skype. The only integration it offers is with Facebook, and I appear to be the only person in Christendom sans Facebook account.
Can't I go back to Messenger? No, because installing Skype from the a-new-version-of-Messenger-is-available caused it to uninstall Messenger.
But most frustratingly, it doesn't alert me when I receive a new email. This is the only reason I was using the now-replaced Messenger!
And things only got more frustrating. I took a look in the Options to see if there was some setting that would enable email alerts. There's not. While I was in the Options area I uploaded a profile image, set a couple of other settings so that I don't keep getting adverts and 'helpful' tips from Skype, and then I clicked Save.
And then I was told that I had entered an invalid port number on the Connection tab. I hadn't entered any number - in fact, I hadn't even looked at the Connections settings, let alone change any of them. That 'port number' field was empty when I got there. I took a look around Skype's support webpages and found that although other people reported this problem last year, none appeared to be resolved, and none of the responses to their calls for help had been answered by anyone from Skype.
So my problems are two-fold:
- I now have no new email alerts.
- Skype won't let me save any Options changes until I've entered a port number. But I can't find out which port number I should enter.
I didn't have any of these problems with Messenger. It presented me with new email alerts, and I could make VOIP calls using Messenger.
Where's the Integration?
It's now about 20 months since Microsoft bought Skype and in that time what integration has taken place? Skype is apparently unable to find out who I am from the operating system (owned by the same company), and it offers only a subset of features offered by the applictation that it replaced.
While typing this post I've come across another problem. I don't want to be available via Skype every time I'm sitting at my laptop. Messenger allowed me to appear offline, and so does Skype. However, when you appear offline in Skype you literally are offline as far as Skype is concerned. It pulls no information from the server, and you can't even look at "Skype Home" until you've told it that you're willing to appear online. Is Invisible the solution to this? If so, why does it work differently from Messenger?
It all begs the question, why has Messenger been replaced, which is a greater extent than being superseded by, an application which works differently and offers less options and features?
And please don't tell me that the Windows 8 Mail app is a viable option. It truly is one of the least thought-through apps I've ever seen. Had it been a free app from a third-party in the marketplace I'd just have shrugged it off as some developer still learning how to build apps, but the Windows 8 Mail app is not fit for purpose. Yes, I could use it just for new email alerts, but that would involve going from my desktop (which I boot directly into) to the Metro UI, start the Mail app, then move back to the desktop again. It's hardly an endeavour, I know, but why should I have to do this?
Whose Service is this Anyway?
Taking a step back from my Skype gripe and looking at the wider online services which Microsoft are encouraging its users to consume, I'm also unsure that - on purely nomenclature grounds - replacing an application called "Windows Live Messenger" with an application called "Skype" is a great idea. Particularly as Skype is so well-known outside of the Windows eco-system. Though I harbour a dislike of the Apple eco-system, atleast they use a naming system which tells the user that it ties in with a suite of applications. For example, iCloud and iTunes. How is the casual user (and Windows has many) expected to know that Skype is the IM and VOIP client offered by Microsoft? Furthermore, how is the casual user expected to know that SkyDrive is Microsoft's version of iCloud?
Now, I'm no marketeer but I'd have thought that after using Live for several years Microsoft would have wanted to keep and extend this naming system across its products and services. Why was Hotmail replaced with Outlook.com - possibly something to do with Microsoft Office having a growing online profile, maybe, but there are far more Hotmail users than Office 365 users. I'm a little surprised that if Microsoft were looking to refurbish Hotmail they didn't keep the Live moniker associated with it: say, Live Mail. And wasn't it named "Windows Live Mail" in-between Hotmail and Outlook.com?
And SkyDrive? Of course, I get the whole cloud-sky tie-in, but in these interconnected days it's all about integration, and in my view SkyDrive should have been named thematically: say, LiveDrive. [I'm aware that since 2008 there has been an online service - not from Microsoft - called LiveDrive, but Microsoft launched "Windows Live SkyDrive" in 2007.]
In keeping with this theme of LiveMail and LiveDrive, why not LiveSkype? Yeah, it's not great, I know, but Microsoft won't want to lose those existing Skype users, and perhaps my own suggestion of LiveWire might be a step too far removed for an existing service with a large subscriber base and whose name has become as common a verb as "to google" something.
It just feels that Microsoft are taking a scattergun approach to services which should appear more integrated than they are. I say "appear" because, Skype excepted, these services are integrated: it's easy to email a document from SkyDrive using Outlook.com; it's a cinch to edit a document sent via Outlook.com; even outside of the Microsoft eco-system, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter are also integrated into these services. So why do their names imply that they have nothing to do with each other?
Skype, on the other hand, needs more than just a change of name.
Live it, Microsoft
What I'd like to see is a single destination, say www.live.com, which Microsoft previously used as a customisable home page and which currently redirects to outlook.com. The user visits live.com and at this single destination they can check their mail which they currently access at outlook.com, they can access their cloud storage - currently known as SkyDrive. The user can also edit documents, spreadsheets, etc., on this page. The important distinction between what I'm suggesting and what we currently have is that I don't believe users should be taken away from outlook.com and into skydrive.live.com; this should all happen through a unified interface at a single destination.
Google used to have docs.google.com, then they launched Google Drive and any user now going to docs.google.com is directed to drive.google.com which shows their cloud-stored files and allows them to interact/edit these files (if applicable).
There would be a desktop client for this portfolio of Live services, a desktop client which also allowed VOIP calls to be made. Microsoft used to offer Messenger as a download inside the Windows Live Essentials package, so this wouldn't be the first time that Windows users have downloaded a Windows Live client. This term wouldn't be suitable for non-Windows users, so let's continue to call it Skype for installation on the Mac OS and Linux.
These services shouldn't be Windows-specific so let's drop that from the name and call this unified service simply Microsoft Live.
And in this manner Live compiles Microsoft's online services into a single destination and a single identity.