How Windows Live Messenger Works

microsoft live messenger
Microsoft Live Messenger is one of the most popular messenging programs.
Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

When an e-mail response isn't fast enough -- or you just want to hang out online with friends, instant messaging (IM) may be your best option. And Windows Live Messenger is the messaging service of choice for many who chat worldwide.

Windows Live Messenger is just one component of the integrated Windows Live communications suite launched by Microsoft Corp. in 2006. The new suite brought together, rebranded and updated existing products such as MSN Hotmail and MSN Messenger, which is now Windows Live Messenger [source: How Windows Live E-mail Works].


In February 2006, MSN Messenger was the most widely used IM service in the world with 61 percent of users worldwide. That included 57.4 million users, or 70 percent of the European market. In North America, the most competitive IM market, MSN Messenger shared approximately one-third of the market, or about 23 million users, with AOL/AIM and Yahoo Messenger. But by November 2007, Windows Live Messenger had become the world's largest IM service with more than 294 million active users worldwide [source: comScore].

Beyond using free Windows Messenger to meet your basic IMing needs, you can use the service to:

  • Connect with friends and family by voice and video
  • Send text to smartphones or other mobile devices
  • Control how and when your contacts see you online

[source: Microsoft Get Live]

You may be wondering, how do I get started? How do I use these services? And, what's the i'm initiative? Let's start by looking at how easy downloading Windows Live Messenger is.


Windows Live Messenger Download

Windows Live Messenger offers expanded contact capability.
Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

Windows Live Messenger is free and easy to use, starting with a simple download. To get started, all you need to do is go to Windows Live and click on "Get Windows Live."

You'll be able to check which services you want to download, choosing Windows Messenger as well as Mail (to access multiple e-mail accounts in one place), Messenger, Photo Gallery (to share photos and videos), Writer (to publish photos, videos and rich content to your blog), Toolbar (for access from any Web page) and OneCare Family Safety (for online security). Then click "Install."


If your computer is a Mac, you'll note that you're automatically taken to the Mactopia site. That's because Windows Live Messenger services aren't available for the Mac. The Mactopia site will show you the IM services offered in Messenger for Mac, which is part of the Microsoft Office for Mac suite, and allow you to download it [source: Microsoft for Mac].

Once you have Windows Live Messenger installed, you're ready to chat. Start by adding a buddy. Click the Add a Buddy icon, add information for your Windows Messenger or Yahoo Instant Messenger contact, and click "Save." You're ready to start messaging. With the offline messaging function, you can send an IM to a contact who's offline to be received the next time he signs on. You also can select a status setting for yourself, such as "Online" or "Out to Lunch" or even appear offline to your contacts.

Once you've mastered IMing, you also can explore the other features Windows Live Messenger offers, like expanded contact functionality and folder sharing.


Windows Live Messenger brings contact information together for up to 600 contacts. You can access all your Windows Live Messenger and e-mail contacts through your buddy list and look up information like birthdays or phone numbers in one place.

"Word wheeling" works like speed dial for your buddy list. You only have to enter the first letter or two of the contact's name to find the person to whom you want to send a message or about whom you need to find information. You can even give contacts nicknames like "Grandma" and search by nickname.

Contact cards, a feature added with Windows Live Messenger, let you know what each of your contacts is doing without even talking to them. Look for a yellow starburst called a gleam, which indicates that a contact has done something new. Then click on the person's contact icon to pull up the contact card and see what's up.

The card shows a preview of what the person has done online, such as updating a social profile. By clicking on the preview, you can get details. By clicking elsewhere on the card, you can send a text message, view the person's friends list, create a sharing folder or call the person's phone. And by flipping the card over, you can edit the information you have for that person.

Sharing Folders

You can create a folder to share items with each of your contacts. Add a file to the folder, or edit one that's already there, and it's automatically shared with you or your contact the next time you sign in. For security, the files are sent over an encrypted channel.

File size doesn't matter. You can share Word documents, spreadsheets, photos, slide presentations, videos and more. If you need to go offline while a large file is being sent, it'll start the download from where it left off when you go online again.

Microsoft offers tips and plenty more about the features of Windows Live Messenger. For tips, "how-to" diagrams and what's new, check out Windows Live Messenger.

Next, let's see how you can use Windows Live Messenger to connect with your friends and family via phone or video.


Phone and Video Calls with Windows Live Messenger

windows live messenger
With Windows Live Messenger, you can either text chat with friends or voice chat.
Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

Instant messaging usually means watching written messages appear in real time on a computer screen and then responding to them. Windows Live Messenger offers that type of traditional chat, but you can also connect with people through voice calls or video. The calls make use of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Here's more about how each of these Windows Messenger features work.


Making PC to PC calls is easy and inexpensive, but you'll have to invest in a compatible microphone and speakers or a headset. Both you and your contact will need Windows Instant Messenger downloaded, and you'll need to complete the sign-up process for a Windows Live ID. Note, too, that while the call is free, you'll need to pay for Internet service.


To make a call, start by clicking the phone icon and then selecting "Call Computer." When your call invitation is sent, your contact's computer will ring. When the invitation is accepted, you're ready to start the conversation.


High-definition video calls also are easy, but you need the right equipment -- compatible Web cameras, microphones, speakers or a headset and high-speed Internet access. You and the person you're calling also need to be signed on to Windows Instant Messenger. As with PC to PC calls, the call is free, but you'll need to pay an Internet service provider for the Web access.

To make a call, start by clicking on the Video icon or right clicking on a contact, clicking on Video and then selecting "Start Video Call." A video invitation to talk is then sent to your contact. You can start your conversation as soon as your contact accepts the invitation.

Windows Live Messenger works in even more ways, allowing you to communicate via smartphones and other mobile devices -- and even with the Xbox 360 gaming platform. Keep reading to learn more.


Windows Live Messenger on Other Platforms

Windows Live Messenger lets users chat with friends from Xbox 360.
Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

You don't have to be sitting at a PC to use Windows Live Messenger. As part of Windows Live, Microsoft offers chat via Windows Messenger using smartphones and other mobile devices as well as Xbox 360 gaming consoles. Here's more about those options.

Windows Live Messenger Mobile

Windows Live services, including Windows Live Messenger, are offered in two ways on mobile phones: via browser from almost Web-enabled phone or as software installed on the phone.


  • Option 1. If you have a mobile phone with a built-in browser that supports WAP 2.0, iMode or HTML, you can use Windows Live Messenger to check in with friends.
  • Option 2. Perhaps your cell phone came with Windows Live already installed. If not, you may be able to install software designed for your specific phone. Using this, you can download contact lists to your phone's address book, carry on IM conversations and let contacts know your online availability and status. You also can take a photo or record a sound clip during a Windows Messenger conversation and then send that file almost anywhere.

The available features vary depending on your cell phone service provider. Also, note that while Windows Live Messenger itself is free, you'll need to pay for a service plan providing Internet, Wi-Fi and phone access. Sending large files may be an added expense.

Xbox 360

Using an Xbox 360 console, Xbox Live and your television, you can IM with your Windows Live Messenger contacts, as well as with your Xbox Live friends. In fact, you can combine the two contact lists into one. You also can:

  • Broadcast what you're doing on the Xbox console to your contacts
  • Have up to six conversations at a time with various friends
  • Plug in a PC keyboard and use the Xbox to carry on a conversation while watching video or playing a game

Here's how to set up Windows Live Messenger on your Xbox 360:

  • Set up your Xbox Live account, registering for a Windows Live ID.
  • Go to the Xbox Live area of the Xbox dashboard, and select "Chat and IM."
  • Select the Messenger tab, select "Continue" and then select "Sign Up for Messenger."
  • Select "Continue," type your password and select "Done."
  • Select "Save Password" and then "Continue."
  • A list will appear of your Windows Live Messenger contacts who also have signed up for Messenger on Xbox Live. Choose which contacts you want to invite to your Xbox Live friends list, and select "Done."

To sign onto Windows Live Messenger, go to the Xbox Live area of the dashboard. Select "Chat and IM," then the Messenger tab and then "Sign In to Messenger."

To have an IM conversation, select the Messenger tab and then "New Conversation." Choose a contact from the list, and enter your message into the chat box.

For more on how to use Windows Live Messenger on the Xbox 360, visit Xbox. Children under age 13 are not allowed to use Windows Live Messenger on Xbox Live. Additional information about managing access to Xbox Live is available on the Web site.

Contribute to a favorite cause while you IM with Microsoft's i'm Initiative. Keep reading to learn how.


The 'i'm' Initiative

windows live messenger
Windows i'm initiative lets users contribute to charitable organizations every time they chat.
© Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Helping a favorite cause is as easy as IMing with the i'm Initiative from Windows Live Messenger. Each time you start a conversation using i'm, Microsoft will donate part of its advertising revenue to a charitable organization. You can select from organizations like the American Red Cross, the Sierra Club, the National AIDS Foundation and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Each organization on the list will receive at least $100,000 from the initiative. Between March 2007 and the end of March 2008, the i'm Initiative raised more than $850,000. A counter on the site shows exactly how much has been raised to date.


If you'd like to participate, first make sure you're using Windows Messenger 8.1 or higher, or download it. Then place the text code for your chosen cause into your display name. Here's how to do that:

  1. From your Contacts window, click the arrow next to your name and select "Options."
  2. Next to your name, type the code for the cause you'd like to support. For example, the American Red Cross is *red+u and the Sierra Club is *sierra.
  3. Click "OK." From now on, when you IM, your name will appear with the cause's text code after it.

After that, all you need to do is keep having IM conversations using Windows Live Messenger.

Windows Live addresses Web communication needs with a single suite of applications and services that are designed to keep changing based on user needs and evolving technology. As part of Windows Live, Windows Live Messenger also continues to grow and change.

For example, Microsoft announced in March 2008 that users would soon be able to add their contacts from Facebook, LinkedIn, Bebo, Hi5 and Tagged accounts to their Windows Life Messenger contact list. No doubt more changes will continue to come [source: PC World].

For lots more information about Windows Live Messenger and related topics, check out the links on the next page.