I added better font control and helped make the client work with non-Latin character sets like Chinese/Japanese/Korean, Indic, Hebrew/Arabic (right-to-left, a particular pain).
I managed when the windows would pop up, how they could be moved around, and how scrolling worked in them (scroll bars were very buggy in Windows! Handling shutdown was a pain, making sure the windows closed down neatly and all the program’s resources were cleaned up properly without the program crashing.
Did AOL notice that there were some odd messages heading their way from Redmond? They had a hundred million users, and after all I was using their own protocol. My program manager and I thought this little stunt would be deemed too dubious by management and taken out of the product before it shipped. On July 22, 1999, Microsoft entered the chat markets with MSN Messenger Service. As people downloaded the client to try it out, they thought it was cool: everything worked, it had better international support, it integrated with Hotmail, and, look at this, you could use two services with one program and still talk to your AOL chat buddies! Of course no one had warned AOL, and they weren’t happy.
They pretty quickly started blocking Messenger from connecting to their servers; they’d disconnect the user and pop up an instant message saying, “Use an authorized AOL client at this link: [web URL].” But AOL could only block Messenger if they could figure out that the user was using Messenger and not AIM.
At the time the big players in instant messaging were AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo, and ICQ. It was a large project: on the desktop program (“client”), we had to create a sleek user interface to let people see their buddies when they came online, allow them to change the color of the font in a cool way, and so on.
We fixed every bug we could find, and then I added another little feature just for fun.
They’d switch it up again; they knew their client, and they knew what it was coded to do and what obscure messages it would respond to in what ways. At one point they threw in a new protocol wrinkle but cleverly excepted users logging on from Microsoft headquarters, so that while all other Messenger users were getting an error message, we were sitting at Microsoft and not getting it.
After an hour or two of scratching our heads, we figured it out.
I graduated from college and went to work as a programmer at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. The server-side team had to notify users about the comings and goings of other users, so that if your buddy Gordon logged on, the server would tell your client that he was there (we, on the client side, had to take the notification and display it to the user properly).
I was put on the group that was building MSN Messenger Service, Microsoft’s instant messaging app. The server side also had to integrate our functionality with Hotmail, which had tens of millions of users and which Microsoft had acquired in 1997.