Yahoo! Closes the Door on Third-Party IM

The move comes in advance of a similar effort by Microsoft -- and could even precede Yahoo! launching its own multi-network IM client.
The deadline for switching to the latest version of its instant messaging software having come and gone, Yahoo! has booted users of third-party IM clients off its instant messaging network.

Earlier this month, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Web portal began sending warnings about required upgrades to users of older versions of its Yahoo! Messenger IM client. Users who didn't upgrade would not be able to connect to the service after its messaging protocol was changed on after Sept. 24.

Yahoo! told InstantMessagingPlanet.com last week that the protocol upgrade was designed to thwart instant messaging spammers.

However, many who use unauthorized, third-party software to connect to Yahoo!'s network -- like multi-network IM clients Trillian, gaim, and Fire -- also received the warnings. That's because most popular third-party clients rely on an older version of the Yahoo! protocol.

As a result, those users weren't able to connect to the service after the deadline. Users of those clients report seeing messages indicating that their passwords are incorrect. This occurred despite efforts of teams at Trillian, Fire, and elsewhere to patch their software before the date of cut-off.

"We are sorry to announce that Fire is having problems connecting with Yahoo!," the Fire development team posted to its e-mail discussion group. "On Thursday afternoon, the Yahoo! servers were changed to support only their new protocol. Unfortunately the changes we made in 0.32.e were not sufficient to allow Fire to continue working with Yahoo! servers after this change. This is why you are seeing a message indicating that your password may be incorrect."

The team also said they are working with the developers of libyahoo2 -- an open-source C library for connection to the Yahoo! network, used by Fire, Everybuddy, Ayttm, KYIM, and others -- to address the issues, and would release new version of Fire "as soon as it is available."

Not being able to logon to Yahoo! is problematic enough for many fans of these clients. But some users of certain software -- Trillian and Fire, in particular -- who had configured their IM clients to auto-connect to Yahoo! were unable to start their applications at all after the deadline.

"We are also aware of a crash which can happen when attempting to re-connect to Fire after being disconnected," the Fire team said. "This will also be fixed in that new release."

Cerulean Studios, the developer of Trillian, did not respond to requests for comments on the matter. The company did post a fix to its Web site addressing the crashing problem, but not restoring connectivity to Yahoo!. Fire developers also provided instructions on the application's site for turning-off auto-connection.

While Yahoo!'s move affects efforts by unauthorized clients to connect to its network, signs indicate that the company could be planning to develop its own multi-network IM client that would tap into rivals' systems.

In recent weeks, Yahoo! has been asking its Web site visitors about whether they'd consider paying for a multi-network IM client similar to Trillian. Officials at Yahoo! dismissed the survey as customer research that didn't represent any concrete plans for such a product.

In any event, Yahoo!'s move comes in advance of a similar effort by Microsoft's MSN network. Microsoft has told its users -- and the users of third-party IM clients also connecting to its network -- that they must upgrade to the latest version of MSN Messenger by Oct. 15. Upgrading would continue to allow users to log into the network's Passport authentication servers, which recently began using a stronger security system.

Acknowledging that unauthorized third-party clients would also be affected by the change in its network, Microsoft also launched a certification program enabling the developers behind those clients to apply for continued access to the MSN network. However, it's not clear what kind of licensing fees or terms would be required for the third-party clients wishing to become legit users of the network.

Some multi-network clients, like GTV -- which creates branded IM clients on behalf of advertisers -- have said they would be willing to pay Microsoft for connectivity.

Aside from the new development of Microsoft's effort to woo unauthorized clients into the fold, the entire situation is reminiscent of an earlier period of hostilities between the major IM networks and third-party clients. In particular, America Online and Trillian sparred over connectivity to the AOL Instant Messenger network during several months of 2002.

Ironically, years earlier, Yahoo! and Microsoft both also sought to establish connections with the AIM network -- but ultimately were stymied by continued changes to the AIM OSCAR protocol.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.

How do new developments in public instant messaging affect your business? Join us at the Instant Messaging Planet Fall Conference and Expo, Oct. 15 and 16 in San Jose, Calif. Sessions include: "Public vs. Enterprise IM" and "State of Interoperability and the Impact on Your Business."






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