Instant Messaging on the Handheld PC - 2 Months on

How did it all start?

In 2003 Microsoft - in the face of increasing levels of criticism on their security track record - embarked on a new policy to drive its software products to provide a more secure application to the user, and quell the increasingly belligerent media coverage.

In 2003 third party security companies began to focus their interest in how users may be vulnerable when using Instant Messaging applications, like MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and AOL IM. Software company ZoneLabs - best known for its Zone Alarm Firewall - announced a new security program to protect users from the dangers that IM networks pose. Released in late summer 2003. Instant Messaging security had become a focus for users.

At the back of the MSN Messenger and Windows Messenger system is the .net passport service (Passport contains the personal details of its users for use on a range of web sites and other on-line services). Microsoft were also faced with a problem. Anyone with sufficient understanding of how to write software could could write a program to access this information, exchange data with Passport and Passport users in an entirely unregulated way. Microsoft responded by announcing a lock down of it's Messenger network to be implemented in October 2003.

Within days of Microsoft's announcement Yahoo, the Search directory and Internet services provider announced a similar clampdown on its Yahoo Instant Messenger. Yahoo implemented their lock down within weeks.
Microsoft successfully completed the changes to the Messenger Network on the 15th of October 2003. The changes were mainly security enhancements in the protocols used at the server end. However for the end user a requirement that the latest version of the Microsoft MSN or Windows Messenger client be installed in order to retain connectivity. The lockout was designed to increase security for Messenger users, as well as reduce the support overhead that numerous versions of the Messenger client were causing Microsoft. However the changes also blocked access to the network by third party clients.

How has this affected Windows CE users?

If you are a Windows, Mac, Pocket PC or Windows CE 4.1+ user, then at most the changes meant that you were inconvenienced with having to install the latest version of the Messenger or Yahoo client. For Handheld PC users however the lock down by Microsoft crippled all Instant Messaging capability on the platform.

Some might say that this is just all part of the plan to discredit the much loved form factor, and badger OEM's into releasing Pocket PC devices instead. This is of course the conjecture of a once bitten, twice shy H/PC user. Sometimes though, it does seem that events conspire against us.

The lock down by Yahoo didn't have such a significant effect on Handheld PC users. Yahoo made changes to it's client support nearly two years prior. These changes disabled the use of the Yahoo IM client embedded into the ROM of some Handheld PC 2000 devices (Such as the Jornada 700 series). Yahoo never intended to release an updated client for Windows CE 3.0 based Handheld PC's and as far as they were concerned. That was that.
Users wishing to maintain functionality with Yahoo migrated to third party IM applications, which for a while provided relief. However users investment in these applications was nullified in a single move by Yahoo. Thankfully the processes at work behind the scenes in the third party Yahoo clients were of a higher order.

Instead of relying on the Yahoo Network to provide IM functions, the clients rely on a third protocol layer that sits above the IM network. In such cases it is not necessarily a question of upgrading the client application, but in upgrading the third protocol layer with the ability to access the updated IM network. As a result users of third party applications used to connect to Yahoo IM were back up and running within a short period of time.
It has to be said that the changes made by Yahoo were not as extensive as those made by Microsoft. However the underlying principles remain the same.

Ruksun

Handheld PC users were never offered an official MSN Messenger client by Microsoft. Ruksun stepped into this void with their Ruksun Messenger Force application.

Ruksun Messenger Force Main Window

Messenger Force allowed Windows CE 2.11 / 2.12 (HPC Pro) and Windows CE 3.0 (HPC2000) users to connect to the Microsoft Windows or MSN Messenger service. Messenger Force provided similar functionality to the MSN Messenger 3.x desktop client.

When we at HPC:Factor first heard about the Messenger Network lock down it seemed clear that Messenger Force users would be affected. We contacted Ruksun many times over the month and a half that followed, right up to the evening before the day of the lock down.

The only correspondence we received during this period was on the 11th of September, stating that they were making decision on the issue and would get back to us in due course.
None of our other requests for information, offers of releasing statements to you the community or offers of assistance received a response. The availability of their corporate web site was intermittent over this period. However no statement was posted addressing the concerns of, or providing information to Messenger Force users.

Sometime after 2pm GMT on the 15th of October, as we anticipated. All available MSN Clients for the Handheld PC were locked out of the Messenger network leaving users high and dry.

Ruksun break their silence

14th November 2003

Dear Chris,

As part of our ongoing commitment to provide you with the best possible experience using Ruksun Software's products, we would like to give you an update on the usability of MSN MF.

Microsoft Corporation recently upgraded their protocol version for the MSN Instant Messaging solution, as a result of which third party clients' access to MSN servers has been blocked. In effect, along with other similar products, Ruksun's MSN Messenger Force products have stopped working.

We would like to sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that you may have gone through. We would like to thank you for not only using our product but also for your continued support and interest.

While we did make it explicitly clear when you bought the product, that Ruksun would not be able to guarantee uninterrupted access to commercial IM networks such as MSN ( please see http://www.ruksun.com/mobile_im/messenger_force/index.html ), Ruksun is working actively towards attempting to resolving the issue. As and when we do find a workable solution, we shall keep you posted and updated. Any upgrades, if at all available, will be free of charge.

Please do feel free to get back to us with any queries or concerns you may have and we would be happy to address them. Thank you once again for your patience and co-operation.

Thank you once again for your continued support of Ruksun's products.

With best regards,

Raj S. Chainani
CEO
Ruksun Software Technologies

 

Ruksun Logo

I would like to make it clear at this point, it is not Ruksuns fault that Messenger Force failed. Microsoft had no obligation to assist or support them with the disruption to their product. Again, Microsoft in their own right are entitled to make changes to their own network.

The issue here is with the fact that this has come on the 14th November, over a month after the lock down

Quite simply Messenger Force users have been left in the lurch. Ruksun's customer relations department has seriously let down customers, and have to this date made no effort to even stop this happening to new customers - who can still purchase the inoperable Messenger Force from the Ruksun web site.

This lack of effective public relations on the part of Ruksun has angered many Handheld PC and users of older Pocket PC devices who rely on Messenger Force for their IM needs. I've received countless e-mail's from the Handheld PC community since we started commentating on the Instant Messaging changes back in August. A general sense of disappointment has time after time dropped into my inbox and IM window.

As Editor of HPC:Factor, I feel that Ruksun missed out repeatedly on getting information out to the community. Even if they chose not to take us up on our repeated offers to release statements, Handheld Addict - for example, as well as the numerous other Handheld PC community and Windows CE community web sites out there would have been eager to assist Ruksun with getting information across to users. None of this happened.

I leave you to draw you own conclusions on this. I know I have mine.

 

Where now?

Despite the failure of Messenger Force, which was, until the 15th October the main player in the MSN Messenger on Windows CE category. There has been some relief for weary Handheld PC users at least.

Remember the third protocol layer? One of the biggest 'independent' collective Instant Messaging endeavours, Jabber immediately started work on recovering functionality to it's users.
I'm pleased to report that eventually they seceded in this.

Jabber quickly started to get information across to all of their client developers with information on the status of the network and the work being undertaken. Within less than 30 days of the October 15th lockout I had received an e-mail from a HPC:Factor regular visitor, stating that she had details of an active MSN Messenger capable Jabber server.

There is a Windows CE Jabber client available from Mov Software called IMov Messenger. It turned out from further correspondence that all the information on the working Jabber server had come directly from mov Soft. Mov are to be congratulated as it seems they put themselves out in getting information out to users of their software as soon as it was made available.

IMov Messenger comes in two forms. A basic freeware version and a Enterprise version with a host of additional features costing $19.95 (USD).
IMov Messenger can be found at the Mov Software web site: http://www.movsoftware.com/

 

I am truly surprised, and greatly relieved that the Handheld PC community has come out the other side of these two lock downs with any Instant Messaging functionality at all. It proves that there is still resilience out there in the community, and the power that we as users have if we take proactive steps to work with developers to ensure the survival of our community.

Chris Tilley
Editor HPC Factor

Addendum: Ruksun have posted the statement they sent to us on their website: Ruksun

Contact Chris by e-mail or via Windows / MSN Messenger.
Alternatively visit the official Handheld PC News Group for a discussion thread

With Special Thanks to Clinton Fitch for images and information
Alternatively visit the Forums for a discussion thread.