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There are lots of instant messaging services. It'd be wonderful if we could talk to anyone on any service from any other service. Sadly, that's not to be.

MSN messenger, Yahoo messenger, AOL messenger, Windows messenger and so on ... I'm confused. Do I have to have all these installed in my computer to be able to IM everybody? I can't IM somebody with AOL or Yahoo messengers if I have a Windows messenger?

Do you have to have them all? It depends on who you want to talk to.

Can you IM someone who's using AOL Instant Messenger using MSN Messenger? No. Yahoo Messenger? Maybe.

You're probably more confused at this point. Let me try to explain.

The short answer is that for the most part, the major instant messaging services can not talk to each other. That means:

  • You must use MSN Instant Messenger to IM with your friends who use MSN Instant Messenger

  • You must use AOL Instant Messenger to IM with your friends who use AOL Instant Messenger

  • You must use Yahoo Instant Messenger to IM with your friends who use Yahoo Instant Messenger

Now, there are exceptions.

First you should be aware that MSN Instant Messenger, Windows Instant Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger are really all the same instant messaging service. They're simply different programs that all communicate on the same instant messaging network. So those programs can all be used with each other.

"...for the most part, the major instant messaging services can not talk to each other."

The other exception is that last year Microsoft and Yahoo cut a deal that makes it possible for their two systems to interoperate, if you use the appropriate client program. That means if you set things up correctly, you can IM to a Yahoo Instant Messenger friends using MSN Instant Messenger.

But right now, that's about as good as it gets.

Even though you need to use the matching service to IM your friends on that service, you can use a single program to do it. Programs such as Trillian and Gaim allow you to install a single program to communicate using all the major IM services. You still talk to AIM users using AOL's service, and MSN users using Microsoft's, but you don't have to install and run a second (or third, or fourth) program to do it.

Caveat: Programs like Trillian and Gaim may be considered illegal, or a violation of the IM services terms of service. The argument is that the IM protocols are not actually made public, and using these programs bypasses the advertising that is displayed in the services native clients - thus denying them of the revenue they're entitled to for providing their services for free. You'll need to make you own decision on whether to use these types of clients.

Article C2886 - January 1, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Carl G.
January 5, 2007 6:11 PM

I recently had a conversation with a person who was using AOL (and I was using Windows Live). Didn't think it was possible either. :)

January 6, 2007 12:54 AM

I use Gaim at the moment, mainly because it is free, while Trillian requires you to pay for their "Pro" version

January 6, 2007 7:48 AM

I use trillian. It's very lightweight and it doesn't have all the ads and junk that come with AIM. The pro version costs $$$, yeah, but the average user will never use the features that come with it. I definitely recommend checking out trillian.

Trevor Mumby
January 13, 2007 11:26 AM

It is such a relief to be able to access such a clear thinking level of expertise.
Thankyou I look forward to learning a lot.

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