Free Winks and Animated Avatars for MSN Messenger

One of the sillier features of MSN/Windows Live Messenger are the winks and animated display pictures. Winks especially can be quite funny and quite a nice way of saying happy birthday or congratulations to someone. Along with dynamic display pictures (which are animated) , they also have a bit of the "wow, how did ya do that?" effect.

Winks 

Via Mess.be, Kiwee (requires IE) is now offering all of it’s content for free (probably for a limited amount of time). This includes:

  • Dynamic Display Pictures which can be customized to your look and which react to the emoticons you use in your instant messages. They animate too!
  • Winks some of which you can customize and add your own message. Some of them you can upload your own photos too!
  • Custom Emoticons, Backgrounds and Regular Display Pictures – these are normally free to use anyway.

So why not: download a few winks and annoy the hell out of your friends!

P.S. I had to think long and hard about the social implications of this post. I trust that this information will not cause the collapse of civilization as we know it from the amount of junk which is going to be flying around on MSN in the next few days. 

MSN Messenger Sign-in Problems

I’ve been experiencing problems signing onto MSN Messenger/Windows Live Messenger since this morning. Error Id 81000314 and 80072745.

Mess.be offers the following quick fix by adding the following to the hosts file:

65.54.239.80 messenger.hotmail.com
65.54.239.80 dp.msnmessenger.akadns.net 

On Windows XP, you can usually find the Hosts file at C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\DRIVERS\ETC\hosts.

You can remove these two lines after a few days when the issue should be sorted.

Alternatively, you can sign in using Web Messenger.

It’s amazingly annoying when there are downtime issues or other technical difficulties with MSN Messenger. It used to happen all the time but more recently it’s been getting pretty good. I’ve said quite a few times that one should always have another IM program such as Yahoo or Jabber for times like this but it’s really problematic as nobody else has them. 

Anyway, that explains why not many people are online and why you may not be able to connect

Microsoft Scalable Fabric

Scalable Fabric is an interesting window manager enhancement from MS Research. It’s a ~1MB download (save with an .msi file extension). The concept is that you have an area in the middle of your screen where open windows will all lie. To minimize them, you drag them towards the edge where they get smaller. The idea is this can allow you to group similar task windows together.

Microsoft’s description:

Scalable Fabric is a task management system for the Windows desktop. A central focus area, defined by you, contains windows that behave in the traditional way. When you drag a window into the periphery, it becomes smaller and continues to get smaller the closer you get to the edge of the screen. This makes it possible to keep windows open all the time, and change "minimize" to mean "return to the periphery". Groups of windows can easily be created to represent different user tasks. Switching between groups is done simply by clicking on the task marker flag.

I’ve tried it out and it seems to work well. It makes you lose quite a lot of screenspace because of the gutters around the edge where minimized windows stay. You get annoying sounds too, but they can be disabled. It’s worth giving a test drive as it’s a dead easy install and remove, but I don’t think it’s revolutionary. 

Windows Sounds and Music

I was looking around my Windows folder as I wanted to retrieve copies of the sounds Windows uses. I discovered three very strange sounds:

  • C:\Windows\Media\FLOURISH.MID
  • C:\Windows\Media\ONESTOP.MID
  • C:\Windows\Media\TOWN.MID

I searched around the web and I couldn’t find much about these files. They just seem to be some MIDI songs and I’ve no idea if they are even used by Windows and if so, where.

I found a Windows Feed Discovered.wav file too which I thought was kinda wierd as XP doesn’t have any feed integration but I wouldn’t be surprised if this came from Internet Exploder 7. 

I also came across CLOCK.AVI in the Windows folder a while ago; googled around for this one and apparently some Windows drivers use this for internal timing or something.

IE7 to be distributed through Automatic Updates

The IE Team Blog:

To help our customers become more secure and up-to-date, we will distribute IE7 as a high-priority update via Automatic Updates (AU) shortly after the final version is released for Windows XP, planned for the fourth quarter of this year.

The blog entry adds that users will be given a option of whether to update but I suspect many people will just Install it without reading it. 

This news is kind of expected and it could be considered good news for web developers – a lot of people are going to have Internet Explorer 7 by sometime in the middle of next year and we’ll be able to use things such as PNGs with alpha transparency.

From a user point of view, I’m not too sure about this. IE7 totally changes the user interface, which IMO is a step backwards, which is going to confuse a lot of people. In fact, I suspect it’ll be easier for a user to upgrade from IE6 to Firefox 2.0 than to IE7 because Firefox feels more familiar. Certainly from experience with people I know, they barely noticed Firefox 1.5 was different to IE6 but IE7 felt alien.

A couple of weeks ago, I was pondering whether I should write a post proclaiming that IE7 is actually worse than IE6. I decided not to as I wanted to await the final version before making judgement. However, I believe the current beta of IE7 is harder to use than IE6 and a lot more complex and cluttered (some of the UI matches Mozilla Suite for complexity). It does add some great new features such as tabbed browsing, feed reading, phishing protection and an integrated search box which are nice but they are paid for by the messed up interface.

On the rendering side, I think IE7 is still pretty poor – the Javascript parser and debugger sucks, pages still look crap and it still lacks many of the web developer features which make it so much easier to develop for Firefox (WHATWG, Canvas, CSS3, etc.) 

Messenger Birthday and Games

A lot of people don’t know that today (July 22nd), MSN Messenger (or Windows Live Messenger as it is now called) has turned 7. In those 7 years, the MSN Messenger network has brought millions of people together. I’ve been using MSN Messenger for about 5 years, since the days of version 2.

In that time, I’ve changed my MSN e-mail address about 6 times. I remember the second version when MSN Messenger was very simple; it did very little – it was a bit like what Google Talk is today. I’ve never really used any other IM system or network for an extended amount of time (though I had a brief stint on ICQ before I found MSN.

As annoying as Messenger can be sometimes, there is no doubt that it has saved me a lot of hassle and pain. Homework collaboration and sharing resources is a lot easier as is checking arrangements for events.

Messenger Games

Through MSN Messenger you can play a lot of games with your contacts and you also get a ranking table for each game comparing your wins and losses with your contacts. You can launch Games by clicking on the Games icon at the top of conversation window. In Windows Live Messenger, this is indicated by a chess piece and a card.

The games you can launch will vary depending on your region; for example people in Denmark get tons of games from Sporkle. The games you can get in the UK are pretty poor but you can launch games which are only available in other territories in the Mess.be Games Launcher (click on Games Launcher in the left hand nav; you’ll need to use IE).

The most addictive game is probably 7 Hand Poker. It’s slightly different from normal poker and of course because it’s being played over the internet, it can be easier/harder to bluff. I’ve set up a little poker launcher which will let you launch the game really quickly. It’s really easy to get the hang of – the "Help" button pretty much explains it all. I played a few friends and now it seems like everyone is addicted. I’ve won about 60% of my 110 games so far.

MSN Poker 

Other great activities include Hexic, Checkers, Cubis, Mozaki Blocks and Bejeweled. Messenger games tend to require you to think so they can work as a pretty good workout for the brain.

You can get some additional third party games at World’s Best App. Sudoku Sniper is really nice.

Microsoft's Live.com the worst search engine ever?

I was trying out some alternative search engines earlier as I wanted to become less reliant on Google. Live.com Search is supposed to by Microsoft’s Google killer. I think it’s absolutely terrible.

Take a look at the top results for Firefox on Live.com:

Live.com Firefox

The official Firefox download page isn’t even even in the top 20 results. The top result is a UK company called Firefox which is an acceptable result but most people won’t be looking for it.

The second result is a spammy page which makes money by providing a Firefox with Google Toolbar download. Compare the results to those given by Google which include official download pages, Firefox advocacy site "Spread Firefox" and a link to the Firefox Wikipedia page. Live, in contrast, has an Uncyclopedia result in the top 10.

It doesn’t seem to be limited to just Firefox, Linux comes up with pretty poor results. Even a search for Windows doesn’t even bring up the official Windows XP page. 

Worst search engine ever? 

MSN and Yahoo Messenger Integration

Integration between Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger with Voice has been enabled. You have to sign up to this beta program from Microsoft if you use Windows Live and another beta program if you use Yahoo! You’ll need the latest version of either WLM or Yahoo! Messenger to get integration and you’ll have to restart the Messenger after signing up.

I decided to talk to myself from MSN to Yahoo so I signed up for both programmes, updated my IM programs and agreed to multiple license agreements.

Myspace?

This was a bit confusing – Yahoo tried to contact MySpace during installation. Why?

Adding a contact

I added my Yahoo! account from Windows Live Messenger in much the same way you’d normally add an account – entering yahooid@yahoo.com as the e-mail address. You then get the standard dialogs on Yahoo! asking you to confirm:

The great thing is that Yahoo! picks up my nickname and personal status on Windows Live Messenger. However, Windows Live didn’t pick up my Yahoo! nickname. Both Messengers picked up things such as Busy/Away status. 

A Conversation

Here’s an obligatory screenshot of a me talking to myself:

Yahoo MSN Conversation

You’ll notice many features are disabled. When you click on Emoticons for example, you’ll only get a set of 25 standard MSN emoticons – no custom ones or complex ones. And when you recieve the message on Yahoo, you’ll see the Yahoo! equivalent emoticon rather than the MSN one.

The art of MSN Messenger nicknames

I admit it; I’m a (MSN|Windows Live) Messenger power user. I’ve got scripts, plugins, modifications, sounds, custom emoticons and been through a few hundred display pictures. One thing I know a lot of people don’t like about MSN is the nicknames but I’m a big fan of them. Your MSN nickname gives you a hundred or so characters – your supposed to enter your (nick)name there and nothing else. But over time, it’s evolved into quite an art form. For me, nicknames really set MSN apart from the other networks.

Nicknames 

Many people just use their nickname as what it was designed for – their nickname. MSN Messenger orders people alphabetically; I remember a fad a while back where everyone would put a dot at the start of their nickname so they’d appear at the top of the list. There was also a time where people would put [x] in front of their name which was supposed to show respect towards something.

The alphabetical nickname is annoying with people who totally change their nickname all the time. With these people, you can never find them on your list. Many people always prefix their name with something at the start however, so it’s not too annoying. 

Politics

Messenger nicknames often carry political statements. Back around the release of Firefox 1.0 I orchestrated a small campaign to ask people to add a link to getfirefox.com in their MSN nickname. I’m not sure how many people joined the campaign but I know of several people who were converted. There are also people who insist on writing something about how great Apple are or how much George Bush sucks in their name. Your nickname is a fantastic place for a political statement as everyone who has added you will see it when they talk to you.

ASCII Art and Chavs

ASCII Art used to be kinda popular, mainly amongst "chavs":

(¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸¸.-> BoB <-.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯) 

Chavs have been known to use their nicknames for political statements such as i LoVe YoU [eNtEr NaMe] or something. Alternating letters and long ASCII arts tend to be exceptionally annoying. Tons of emoticons in nicknames are also a bit annoying.

Back in the days of Messenger 4, a lot of people used to use colour in their nicknames. I haven’t seen anyone do this in years.

Geeks

Geeks tend to stick the URL of their website or blog onto the end of their nickname. Some geeks get new websites every day and you’ll see a URL to a different website which they made every time you log on. URLs to popular movies, videos and animations also tend to be popular – I’ve often seen people with the URL to the latest Weebl & Bob in their nickname.

And also…

Looking down my contact list I can see people asking for technical support, campaigning for the return of a television show, jokes, film reviews, world cup scores and mini-poems in their nicknames. 

  • There used to be an exploit that allowed you to render yourself unblockable by using a certain nickname.
  • There was a time where MSN blocked swear words and URLs from nicknames. Fortunately these have been removed but if you logged onto Messenger during the version 4 days you’ll see people with URLs disguised like ht tp: // cow.neondragon.n et.

I think it could be really interesting logging the nicknames of your contact list over a certain amount of time and analysing the data. I’m pretty sure I found a website which did this a while ago but I can’t seem to find it again.

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 3

Microsoft have released Beta 3 of Internet Explorer 7. If you’re upgrading, you should uninstall Beta 2 before installing Beta 3. This new version has drag and drop tab reordering, some behavior changes, security fixes and feed reading improvements.

Get Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 for Windows XP SP2

I’ve not downloaded and tried this version yet but I’m looking forward to it. I’m still kinda disappointed at IE7 – I don’t like the new UI much though the rendering improvements are pretty good. Still, many of the issues I had writing JS for IE6 still exist. 

A beta of Mozilla Firefox 2.0 should be out soon.