By Jeremy Reimer | Published: September 27, 2006 – 01:53PM CT
The collaboration effort, which has been going on since late last year with limited-release beta software, allows users of either Yahoo Instant Messenger or Windows Live Messenger (the product formerly known as MSN Messenger) to share friends lists and communicate with people on either service. Both Yahoo and Microsoft plan to release updates to their software to the general public. The announcement was made yesterday, with software updates expected to follow shortly (Messenger 6.0 for Mac OS X, which was released today, supports the Yahoo network).
According to a joint press release, the combination will create the world’s largest combined IM network, reaching nearly 350 million total users. (Apparently, software such as Trillian and GAIM that combine all the major IM networks into one does not count in this case.) This represents a serious challenge to AOL. According to a Nielsen/Netratings survey conducted in March 2006, AOL still has a commanding lead in the IM market, with 53 million active users worldwide, compared to MSN/Windows Live Messenger with 27 million and Yahoo with 22 million. Back in 2002, the distribution was similar: AOL with 22 million MSN with 16 million, Yahoo with 12 million, and ICQ still hanging in there with 4 million active subscribers.
Will the collaboration between Microsoft and Yahoo tilt the balance of power in the IM wars? It seems more likely that instead, more interoperability between networks will rule the day. Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that Vodaphone customers in Europe would be able to send telephone text messages to each other using Windows Live Messenger. Other phone companies are offering MSN and Yahoo integration in North America. In the end, instead of a struggle for dominance between different networks all using their own software, users may be able to pick any instant messaging software they like and communicate with anyone they choose to.