.NET Alerts Expand Windows Messenger Beyond Chat

Windows Messenger, like its MSN Messenger siblings, is a great program for online chatting, whether you prefer text chat, audio conversations, or even one-on-one video conferencing. Microsoft has rebuilt Windows Messenger, a core component of Windows XP, as a platform on which to integrate .NET services. The first generation of these services, called .NET Alerts, is now available.

To get .NET Alerts on your XP-based PC, you must upgrade to a recent version of Windows Messenger. XP ships with Windows Messenger 4.0, but version 4.5—the first to add .NET Alerts support—became available October 25, 2001. Today, the most current version is 4.6.

When you upgrade to Windows Messenger 4.5 or 4.6, the first thing you notice is a subtle change in the application's UI. Gone is the original version's Spartan, no-nonsense UI; in its place is the Actions list, a vertical tab-based interface that features a task list of frequently needed functionality. The tab-based interface, similar to tabbed dialog boxes in Windows OSs, provides multiple windows of information without requiring you to open new dialog boxes, and it's the way individual .NET Alerts will provide management UIs in XP. Two tabs are available by default: the Online tab, which lets you view and interact with your contacts, and the Alerts tab, where you configure subscription alerts.

When you click the Alerts tab, which features an icon that resembles a ringing bell, you see a list of available alerts—including such things as MSN Money, MSN Carpoint, eBay, and many others—or a link for subscribing to alerts if you haven't done so already. You can subscribe to alerts through the Microsoft Alerts Web site, which presents a list of alerts providers, including Microsoft/MSN, FYE, uBid online auctions, eBay, and McAfee.com. Microsoft/MSN's alerts include MSN Money, MSN Carpoint, MSN Calendar, and MSN Music.

From the Alerts Web site, you can configure alerts for delivery through Windows Messenger, a compatible mobile device (e.g., certain cell phones), or your email Inbox. If you choose Windows Messenger as a target, you can also configure how alerts arrive based on your online status. For example, if you're offline, you might want the service to deliver alerts to your cell phone or by email instead.

Back in Windows Messenger, you can also choose to display different Alerts tabs. Currently, tabs for Microsoft .NET Alerts (the default Alerts tab), CNBC on MSN Money, Expedia, FYE, McAfee.com, and MSN Carpoint are available; more are expected soon from a variety of third-party service providers. You can select Alerts tabs from a Tabs pop-up menu that appears in the lower-left corner of the Windows Messenger window. When you select a tab from the list, that tab appears next to the other available Alerts tabs on the left side of the window.

The newest tab, for McAfee.com's McAfee Security Center, became available this week. The McAfee Security Center includes information about today's computer virus threats, the top five viruses, and other virus-related information. When a new virus appears—an alarmingly frequent possibility these days—Alerts subscribers will be the first to know.

Other tabs provide similar functionality. The MSN Carpoint tab, for example, provides local gas prices and, perhaps more importantly, local traffic reports so you can plan your commutes accordingly. Just configure the service with your ZIP code and daily commute plans, and the traffic forecast will alert you to any incidents that might delay your travel. The tab also offers links to information about car insurance, new cars, financing, and related topics. Meanwhile, the CNBC tab provides stock alerts; configure it with the stocks you want to track, and it will alert you when stock prices go up or down a certain amount. It can also provide end-of-day stock pricing.

In a previous edition of .NET UPDATE, I discussed some of the upcoming alerts from third parties such as Verizon, and although most of them haven't yet shipped, I expect to see more alerts arrive each month. If you haven't yet looked into .NET Alerts, now's a good time to start. And if you're not an XP user, alerts are available through MSN Messenger in previous Windows versions as well.

Microsoft Alerts


Windows Messenger 4.6 upgrade


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