In a bold but widely-anticipated move, Microsoft and Yahoo announced this morning that they will be linking their instant messaging (IM) systems, allowing MSN Messenger users to chat with Yahoo Messenger users. The companies say that this interoperability should be available by mid-2006.
"Microsoft and Yahoo look forward to bridging the divide between our global communities, creating richer and easier ways for our customers to connect," says Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "IM interoperability is the right thing for our customers, our businesses and the industry as a whole, and Microsoft is delighted to help lead these efforts with Yahoo!" In many ways, Microsoft has been seeking IM interoperability with various companies for years. But efforts to combine MSN's Messenger service with that used by AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) a few years back fell victim to competitive issues.
MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger are two of the most popular IM solutions in the world. Microsoft estimates that the combined services will account for 275 million users (185 million of those are on MSN Messenger). The company also noted that IM interoperability was one of its largest customer requests. But one has to wonder what the real driver for this deal was. When Google recently unveiled its Google Talk service, based on the open source Jabber protocols, the company promised to eventually link the service to every other IM service. Microsoft and Yahoo, not coincidentally, are Google's biggest competitors.