This is the first interview in the Windows Live and You summer edition. I’m sure that my conversation with Frans-Willem Hardijzer, who developed the Messenger add-on StuffPlug, and is also known as “The Blasphemer”, will be especially interesting for you.
mynetx: I find it great that you got some minutes to talk with me about Windows Live and You.
Tell me a bit about yourself. Is your life directly or indirectly involved with Windows Live?
Frans-Willem: I’m not as much involved with Windows Live as I used to, mainly because studying and everything around that (yes, drinking and having fun) takes up a lot of time, but Windows Live Messenger is still my primary means of day-to-day communication with friends.
mynetx: How were you involved with Windows Live? What is your history, that is, how did you come to Windows Live Messenger?
Frans-Willem: Well, I don’t quite remember how I got in touch with Windows Live (or at that time MSN) Messenger. I do remember what got me started on developing though. Back in the time of Messenger 5 or 6, Patchou suddenly launched a plug-in architecture for Messenger Plus!. I’d always been interested in writing programs, but I’d never gotten round to serious development with C, mainly because command line was so incredibly boring compared to the forms that you could get with Visual Basic. But then suddenly I *could* make fun things with C. I started out with some simple code to convert text for you, e.g. leet speak, but as I kept finding out more things, I kept adding more and more stuff to my plug-in. That’s mainly how StuffPlug got it’s name: It was a plug-in without a clear goal or feature set, it was just a plug-in with all the stuff I’d written: StuffPlug.
At some point though I got better at C, and that got me into Assembler, and I started adjusting small things in Messenger to make it better fit my wishes. It started out with bigger display pictures, and then time-zone adjustable clocks as I talked with lots of people overseas, and I just “fixed” any annoyance I had with Messenger.
Nowadays however I think WLM 9 is pretty close to perfect. I don’t see an immediate need to adjust stuff, and I’m not even using Plus! anymore as the built-in logging is pretty good.
Anything else you wanted to know on that subject 😛 ? I feel I’m just rambling on now. 😉
mynetx: Do you think the Windows Live team cares for their users’ demands? Why?
Frans-Willem: Hmmm, good question. I’m not sure. They used to be very open to the community, I remember Leah was very passionate about the blog, but these days I feel the messengersays blog is mostly just marketing. Also I’m not sure I or you still fall in their desired user-group, all they seem to be focusing on is 10 year olds obsessed with nudges, winks, sounds, and emoticons.
Although I must say that somewhere along the line some pretty nifty features snuck in, like built-in polygamy or the word wheel, that makes me feel that there are at least a few developers or Program Managers at Microsoft concerned with the actual usability 😉
mynetx: Yahoo—Microsoft. What did you think last summer?
Frans-Willem: Well, to be honest, I was hoping that it had marked the start for more interoperability between IM networks, but I feel a bit let down. I don’t actually know anyone that uses Yahoo as their primary IM client, but when I tried it I felt like they only did the bare minimum to get people to talk to each other. I’m still waiting for interoperability between WLM and Google Talk, but I’m afraid that’s never going to happen…
mynetx: – what about Windows Live & Facebook?
Frans-Willem: Well, it’s handy that my PSM gets synched up with Facebook, but that’s about it, I guess 😛
mynetx: Within the next five years, where could you picture Windows Live?
Frans-Willem: Hmmm, I’m not sure really. I mean, there’s a lot of things I’d *like* to see, like GTalk and WLM interoperability as I mentioned before, but for some reason Microsoft always seems to surprise me, and never seems to go the obvious routes. I mean come on, they just renamed their search engine after they pumped millions of dollars into getting a global brand name for all their online services. wtf :P?
One thing I do hope though is that they’ll come up with something new for once. Instead of constantly following (e.g. Spaces after blogging, social networks just while Facebook was coming up, etc.), I’m hoping they’ll come up with something new and exciting and start leading again 🙂
mynetx: Give two positive and negative comments on any Windows Live product.
– They’re really reaching out to other platforms, Yahoo, Facebook.
– Most of the products are always properly finished and polished, even the beta products just work.
– Too much following, not enough leading.
mynetx: Do you run Windows Live Messenger 24/7? Do you have some kind of a routine with Messenger and the other parts of Windows Live?
Frans-Willem: Not 24/7, I shut down my PC at nights, but if I’m awake, my PC is on, and WLM is on 😉 Not really a routine, although I do make a point of answering all offline messages I get 🙂
mynetx: Use your fantasy: how do you think Messenger will look like within the next five years? What new features could it present?
Frans-Willem: Hmmm, well, GTalk and AIM integration for one :). Not sure what else I’m missing though :/
mynetx: What about Tabbed Chatting?
Frans-Willem: Hmm, I’m good with the Vista taskbar grouping to be honest.
mynetx: Your guess for the next release, Wave 4—what might be in the oven for Windows Live Messenger 2010?
Frans-Willem: I’m hoping much more integration with other, non Windows Live, services. Seeing as they’ve only just begun with that, I think there’s a fair chance they’ll be expanding that in Wave 4.
mynetx: Services like?
Frans-Willem: Hmmm, I’m not sure if they’ll be expanding to more services. I think it’s more likely the integration they currently have will be expanded. e.g. see Facebook info in WLM instead of the other way round, automatically linking up contacts to their Facebook accounts, etc.
mynetx: Are you satisfied with the Windows Live services that are provided to you?
Frans-Willem: Hmm, yeah, in general I am 🙂
Frans-Willem: Probably not the answer you’re looking for, but they’re all free services. Yes, they might have a few shortcomings (like ads), but it’s free, so what right do you have to complain about those :P?
mynetx: Heh, good point though…
What is your favorite feature in Messenger?
Frans-Willem: Hah, that’s easy! The conversations 😛
Seriously though, there’s lots of nice features, but in the end I use it because I can have conversations with my friends using it. If all my friends would be using AIM, I’m pretty sure I’d been using that instead. But if you really want me to pick a feature outside of chatting, I’d go for the word wheel above the contacts. With the number of people in my list that’s pretty essential 🙂
mynetx: Ever heard of Live Mesh? What was your first impression of it? Could it be a new diverse method of file sharing among peers, or could it improve the current system at hand?
Frans-Willem: Hmm, yeah, I have Live Mesh installed on both my computers. I’m not really using it though, for file sharing I usually just use a simple off-line USB-key (just bought a nice new one actually, LaCie iAmAKey, totally love it :P), and for remote administration I have Remote Desktop enabled. I kind of dislike Live Mesh not being able to use a different resolution than the one I have at home apart from scaling, viewing 3200×1200 on a 15″ laptop screen doesn’t really allow me to read anything.
mynetx: So you would like to see a resolution customization like the one in Remote Desktop?
Frans-Willem: I wasn’t aware you could use it to share files with friends though, I should take a look at that. But I’m not convinced it’ll be a “new diverse method of file sharing among peers” really, I’ve heard that claim one too many times (remember Messenger shared folders?).
Hmmm, not sure I need Live Mesh actually, Remote desktop really does everything I’d want it to :-/ But then again, for people that didn’t set up a subdomain to always link to their home IP might find it more convenient to use Live Mesh 😉
mynetx: Do you wish Messenger would have a feature that a third-party IM software already has? As add-on developer, this question might be especially interesting for you…
Frans-Willem: Hmmm, I haven’t really used any other IM applications recently, so I wouldn’t know. I did hear Pidgin does some nice things like set the window icon to the display picture of the other person 😉
mynetx: Yes, I’ve seen that recently as well.
As Messenger user, I’m sure you’ve got a good tip that not everybody might know about yet.
mynetx: Are you working on any project related to Windows Live currently?
Frans-Willem: Hmm, yeah, LiveScratcher, but not very actively at the moment, some university deadlines coming up. I hope to be able to get some major work done in July though 🙂
mynetx: What’s it about?
Frans-Willem: Well, it’s about putting every technical trick I know about Messenger into a big library. I’m hoping I can write a framework that I can use myself to write another StuffPlug like add-on on, as well as allow other developers to use it to write theirs. It’s like Plus! scripting, but then with all of Plus!’s own features implemented in scripts too.
mynetx: That sounds exciting!
Frans-Willem: For people interested, there are some really early previews on livescratcher.com, and there’s a mailing list you can use to get in touch with me and other interested people. Mind you though, the current stuff is only for developers. So normal users beware, but developers please check it out and let me know what you think. Loads of feedback ensures that it ends up a nice platform to work with 🙂
mynetx: Down to what level, do you think, might your library reach?
Frans-Willem: Well, for now I’ve only done some DirectUI stuff, which allows you to play with Messenger’s user interface. Like remove something here, add something there, change a background or a picture. Like skinning, but then instead of replacing everything, just targeting small bits.
I intend to write a nice wrapper around all the messenger API’s, and add extra functionality like send text and data from scripts. And at the moment I’m doing some research on in-memory patching, to allow for things like removing the nudge limit. I’m hoping to expose everything I used in StuffPlug to scripting.
And as with StuffPlug, it’ll always be a work-in-progress. I do intend to keep adding new stuff I learn. But it’s set up in a very modular way, that allows me (or maybe other developers) to plug in extra parts when needed. And there’s also a way for scripts to communicate with each other, so someone might write a script that doesn’t really add any features for the user, but will expose some new functionality for other scripts to use.
Frans-Willem: Hah, what kind of question is that 😛 Of course it’ll be compatible, I always put a lot of thought into that sorts of things 🙂 If Patchou and Matt are ok with it, I might even add methods to communicate with Plus! and MD scripts 🙂
mynetx: How patient should we be until we see usable bits of all this appear, especially if they’re not developers? Can we get excited?
Frans-Willem: Hmmm, developers can get excited, but I’m afraid it’ll take some time before there’s something user-friendly enough for normal users. Mind you though that it’s a massive project, and I want to think through each and every aspect of it carefully to make sure it turns into a nice API, so it will take some time 🙂
mynetx: Okay — “StuffPlug 4”? 😀
Frans-Willem: Yes, hopefully at some point 🙂 My slogan while developing is
“Hmm, I wonder if I can do this better…”
mynetx: I think that’s a great thing you got in mind. Anyways, I’ve bothered you enough for now!
Thank you for spending these minutes on Windows Live and You.
Frans-Willem: You’re welcome 🙂