Chat Wars

An engineer’s-eye view (and history) of the battle between Microsoft and AOL for chat market share. One of Microsoft’s strategies was to allow people to use AIM chat inside their client, which involved reverse engineering the AIM protocol. This turned into a back-and-forth battle between the opposing company’s engineers.

AOL tried different tactics. At one point they seemed to be identifying the Microsoft client because it wasn’t downloading a huge chunk of advertising that the AOL client downloaded. So I changed our client to download it all (and then throw it away). They put in mysterious messages that didn’t seem to affect their client but broke ours because we weren’t expecting them. One day, I came in to see this embedded in a message from the AOL server: “HI. –MARK.” It was a little communication from engineer to engineer, underneath the corporate, media, and PR worlds that were arguing over us. I felt some solidarity with him even though we were on opposing sides.

Apr 18 2014

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