Matthew’s Natter – How changes to Microsoft Messenger are affecting his lifestyle…

In the following article ICT in Havering contributor Matthew Turk explains how the decision of Microsoft to replace their Messenger service with Skype will affect his lifestyle…

About myself

My name is Matthew Turk and I suffer from a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy presenting with extremely weak muscles. This means my mobility is very limited and I am confined to a wheelchair. Due to these limitations obviously I cannot participate in normal activities, I’m sure Arsenal wouldn’t appreciate tyre marks from my wheelchair on the Emirates pitch. With special adaptations and programs I can however regularly use my computer and spend a lot of my time on there. Playing games, writing and chatting to my friends are my adventures in cyberspace. Computers have been a major part of my whole life and I try to utilise technology in every possible way.

A good thing I can’t text

Communication has become a lot easier since the introduction of mobile phones and the majority of everyday chat now seems to be done in text form.  On Facebook I once saw two photos meshed together where one was above the other:  the first had a group of people from 10 years ago having real verbal conversation and laughter, and the second photo had another group of people in the present day simply texting each other.  My limitations have meant I have always been unable to use a mobile phone and the text facility…whilst this has saved me a small fortune, it meant that other than meeting face to face, I could not easily communicate with my friends outside of school and college.  There was of course the option of using e-mail but in that time this had limited functions.  I was then introduced to the world of MSN Messenger.

The dawn of a new age

During my first year of college in 2003 a number of friends talked about MSN Messenger and frequently discussed conversations they had had on it.  I knew e-mail, whilst limited, was still an option and so wondered why MSN was apparently so good.  Once I installed it however, I understood exactly why people went on about it.  It was the dawn of a new age for me: emoticons, text speak and even webcam functions.  I could interact with my friends so easily on the computer and many friendships became much stronger.  It was also easier to send fellow students work which we had to complete at home but was tasked to us as a group in college itself.  To some extent it even opened my eyes to customisation of programs to make things easier for me.  Along with Wivik (my onscreen keyboard, there will be a short note about this at the end), I found a new sense of freedom and independence.  My limitations no longer held me back in this respect.

These times they are a changing

This Bob Dylan line seems appropriate to this paragraph.  MSN Messenger has gone through many changes over the years but recent years have, at least to me, represented a decline in its functions.  There was a time where a user could enable one-way webcam, so you could show a friend something without them needing to turn on their own webcam or microphone.  This was such a wonderful feature that I often used and also in my opinion helped with privacy.  While it sounds a small point, moving the display picture from one side of the screen to the other had a massive impact for me as one of the skins (background) which I often used, changed so much that the chat window became difficult to manage.

In 2009 a friend introduced me to Skype and I was not overly impressed.  Even though in my opinion MSN was declining, I feel that Skype did not offer the functionality that MSN did. Skype’s customisation was/is worse because I cannot add my own emoticons.  Also, as far as I am aware, Skype does not have a photo share function like MSN.  This is where two people can share photos without having to save them onto their own computer.  It is a very useful tool and one example would be sharing holiday photos…you can see the other person’s photos without having to save each individual one onto your computer.  Skype does have a share screen function but this will be discussed later on.

I recently heard that Microsoft had decided to retire MSN Messenger in favour of Skype.  They are integrating MSN/WLM (Windows Live Messenger, MSN’s most recent name) and Skype so that you can use Skype to chat with your MSN friends.  From a business point of view, their logic is sound.  No company would want to be spending double the amount of money on two programs when they can operate just one.  From a personal point of view however, I cannot understand their decision.

No option

It is sad for me that a program, which I have used every day for so long and is central to my ability to easily communicate with friends, is being discontinued.  It would seem that initially I have few options:  the first being to try and add as many people from MSN onto my Skype but this depends entirely on whether they have Skype.  People would argue that if my friends wanted to keep in touch with me then they would happily download it, but the principle is that this is being forced upon us.  It is not right that this decision has already been made without, as far as I am aware, any consultation with members of the public.  This does not only affect theUnited Kingdom, it affects the whole world apart from China.  (I would love to find out whyChinahas been excluded from this shut down).

The second option is to try the new version of Skype where I am able to chat with my contacts from MSN Messenger.  I tried installing this new version recently and discovered that it automatically uninstalls MSN Messenger.  This is another action which is being forced upon us and so I am trying to find a computer which I no longer use and can try this new Skype.  Readers will see that this is an evolving article as I will give an update once I have experimented with this new version.

There is a third option which is to simply try a completely different messenger client.  This is a fairly obvious option where people would have to research what each client offered to suit their own needs.

Monetisation

I first heard about this shutdown on the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20222998) and then on various forums.  I have been unable to find any official announcement (other than Skype is changing) so I am hoping, even praying to the Computer Gods (Gates in the sky in particular) that this is just a rumour that has gone viral and spread rapidly although it seems more and more definite that this is happening.  As it looks increasingly like a fact that MSN is closing, there is a particular sentence in the BBC article that scares me and possibly other disabled people.

The fear that I have is a sentence which an analyst says, I quote from the BBC article “Skype’s top-up services offer the chance to monetise its users…”. This quote instantly makes me concerned about whether Skype’s instant messaging and webcam abilities will continue to remain free in the long term.

There is another accessibility problem I have encountered.  Earlier in the year I had to help someone with their computer and told them to enable the share screen function on their Skype.  As far as I remember this went without a hitch but when I tried again recently I encountered a number of problems.  In the last few days I experimented with Skype on two computers and made a discovery.  I am not writing about the problems I originally encountered but the discovery I made in researching those computers.  If I open share screen then I cannot directly type a message to the other person…I have to change the share screen window to the application that I want to show the other person and then switch to the Skype conversation window in order to type the message.  If it sounds a convoluted process then I can tell you it is more frustrating than it sounds.  When you consider MSN/WLM Messenger’s photo share function allows me to share photos in the same conversation window and easily type messages to the other person, it is especially frustrating that Skype does not offer the same simple service.  Two people I know have tested the above Skype screen sharing for me and have found that it is indeed a difficult process.  They had to switch between application windows in order to show the photos and then explain them using text.  They both said they found this process complicated and confusing.

Having to switch between windows means that additional movement is required and for those people who tire easily or who have extremely limited mobility this is not an improvement of a service.

Conclusion

The BBC article says that many people may be tempted to install an alternative instant messaging service.  These alternative messaging programs could include Yahoo Messenger, Pidgin and many more, most of which if not all, are not owned by Microsoft.  Whilst I and others would have to research each “client” so that they can download the one that is tailored to their requirements, it is an alternative option and I have to say I myself am considering this.  Instant messaging programs are a vital part of my life and I am extremely sad to see MSN Messenger being retired.  I do not like being forced to change programs without even being asked my opinion and I worry that Skype may become more of a subscription/pay to use service.

In my opinion it seems to be that companies are trying to integrate their programs for use in Tablets, Smart phones and other portable devices.  This is clearly trying to do the best for people who are able to use these pieces of equipment. If this is the case however, then could this not be considered discrimination against the people who are unable to use these items?

It seems to me that all of the decent programs that offer so much seem to be retired because of the fact that new technology is available.  Sometimes this new technology is not better than the existing items and, whilst not related to computers, is particularly true of the retirement of Teletext/Ceefax in favour of Red Button services.  To finish off with one of my favourite quotes from a Star Trek film (yes I am a Trekkie):  “Let us redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily follow that we must do that thing”.

Wivik

With the editors permission I would just like to take this opportunity to put a quick note on the internet about Wivik.  Wivik has a known compatibility issue with internet explorer from Microsoft.  When protected mode is enabled in IE, the word prediction function in Wivik does not work.  This means that every user has to type each individual letter, whatever the input method they use.  I have recently changed my internet browser to Firefox and this issue no longer happens, I am able to use my abbreviations (Wivik users will understand this) and word prediction.

If you switch to Firefox, in my experiences so far and I admit that obviously I have not been on every single website where typing is possible, this issue is resolved.

Update: 

Earlier in this article I said that I would write more once I had experimented with the new Skype.  My results have been interesting in that nothing much has changed.  When you upgrade your Skype, you are given the option of signing in with your Windows ID (MSN/WLM information) or Facebook.  I chose to log in using my Windows ID and once this had completed I could talk to my contacts from both Skype and MSN using the former’s client.  It remains to be seen whether the share screen function will be improved or made more accessible for those who still wish to type to the other person.

 

NB. The views expressed above are independent of the Havering School Improvement Services and London Borough of Havering

Matthew’s Natter – Knowledge is Power…

About myself

 

My name is Matthew Turk and I suffer from a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy presenting with extremely weak muscles. This means my mobility is very limited and I am confined to an electric wheelchair. Due to these limitations obviously I cannot participate in normal activities, I’m sure Arsenal wouldn’t appreciate tyre marks from my electric wheelchair on the Emirates pitch. With special adaptations and programs I can however regularly use my computer and spend most of my time on there. Playing games, writing and chatting to my friends are my adventures in cyberspace. Everyone loves the Internet.

 

Knowledge is power

 

The beautiful thing about communication is the exchange of ideas and finding ways to do a particular thing more efficiently. By sharing our knowledge of the programs we operate, we can create new innovations and help others to use software easier. For example, I try to tell people as often as possible that if you triple click a word instead of the regular double, the entire paragraph gets highlighted rather than just the single word. It might sound simple but it can be extremely useful and reduces the need for drag highlighting. The Internet is no different, which is why CEME will be good for teachers and anyone else who sees the video clips because so many ideas have been shared.

 

New surroundings

 

When I was at school I wrote a letter to the Broxhill Centre as everyone in my year had to apply for work experience. Thankfully I was offered two weeks experience and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I helped out with the classes and was even able to do some more there once I had finished college. I learned that the team were going to be moving offices and the filming at CEME was my first opportunity to see the new building. I was very impressed with it, as the accessibility was fantastic and the entire site including the garden/fountain areas makes it a very welcoming and positive building. Everyone was extremely helpful and seemed to have a smile which also made the new location even more friendly.

 

The next generation

 

During the discussions and filming, the knowledge of the school children was amazing to me. I keep telling myself that it is probably because the topics they discussed were just never around when I was at school, it doesn’t help make me feel any younger though. These students, and all the others that are classed as the new generation have so much to offer in that they are able to explain new ways of how to get the most out of the Internet. They talked about anonymous proxy servers, encryption, filtering, their knowledge was accurate and they could explain it easily. I find it reassuring in a way because all of them want to know how to use the Internet to its optimum performance, if they encounter a problem they want to find a way around it.

 

The questions

 

Before a group was interviewed about the Internet, everyone discussed the issues involved and the questions that might have been raised. During and after the discussion but before the filming, it was great watching all the personalities, the typical teenage “I’m fantastic” attitude and when the filming began how nervous and quiet some of the students became. I love observing little things like that. Most of the questions were relatively simple, how the Internet at school works, their computer habits, any private information and how they deal with it. Youngsters today get a lot of bad publicity but from what I saw they were sensible and mature. Filtering at school, cookies and other technical issues were also raised for the students to share their knowledge on.

 

My contribution

 

I thought it was best that I be interviewed on my own. There were a lot of questions regarding Internet use at school, nearly all of which I wouldn’t have been able to answer because those subjects weren’t around when I was at school. I didn’t want to deprive other students of answering those questions and likewise because I’m in a unique situation, I didn’t want to have questions asked that weren’t relevant for them. I answered how I operate my computer, the freedom the Internet brings me, how nearly all stereotypes and discriminations don’t exist in online chatting, the problem with my webcam and a question about the Internet browsing history. I enjoyed it because the only way for people to learn anything new is to ask the question, and I hope not only that myself and the others were helpful but also this event could happen elsewhere and again in the future. It would enable people to share even more knowledge.

 

A good day

 

I think it was a very productive day and I’m really glad I was invited to be a part of it. It will be very helpful for all those who see the finished product and I can only say good words about the new building.

Matthew’s Natter 2 – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”

About myself

My name is Matthew Turk and I suffer from a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy presenting with extremely weak muscles. This means my mobility is very limited and I am confined to an electric wheelchair. Due to these limitations obviously I cannot participate in normal activities, I’m sure Arsenal wouldn’t appreciate tyre marks from my electric wheelchair on the Emirates pitch. With special adaptations and programs I can however regularly use my computer and spend most of my time on there. Playing games, writing and chatting to my friends are my adventures in cyberspace. Everyone loves the Internet. 

I can see you…

In today’s society nearly everyone uses some sort of instant messenger. There are far too many to mention and there are even websites for when you cannot connect and you can use their service instead. We have video conferences, can send pictures around the world and keep in contact with family using a simple little device – a webcam. True, they are optional and may not be necessary but they certainly enhance the communication experience. Being able to see the person you are typing to is wonderful because it adds a sense of realism, you’re seeing how they react to a sentence rather than just seeing a reply. Some of my friends all around the world have a webcam and it is great being able to see them. The quality of the image is almost life like and if the Internet connection is fast, you are seemingly “chatting” in real time. I used to have a webcam but unfortunately it broke, and despite jokes I certainly didn’t run over the wire. Recently I decided to buy another especially as the technology has improved over recent years.  

…can you see me?

I made a point of researching the available models and reading the specifications as I don’t like diving straight into a purchase. Without digressing too much, I was sensible about it and made sure my selected webcam was going to be suitable and compatible with Vista. For the purpose of the rest of this article, I shall call it “A”. “A” looked great, sat nicely on top of my screen and was ready to be used. The installation process went without any problems and it even connected to the USB port smoothly. I signed on to MSN, turned “A” on so a friend could see me, the connection was established, straight away there were pink and green lines appearing over the image. While the thought of Mr Blobby can be entertaining, I wouldn’t want friends thinking I am his cousin. I tried “A” with different people but the problem persisted. It was becoming very annoying, the problem shouldn’t have been happening.  

A reminder

Now, as you read this next section please keep in mind my muscular limitations – I use an on-screen keyboard to type. I just click the letter with the mouse and it appears.  

Software conflict

I tried so many things to get “A” working properly. I uninstalled and reinstalled the software, downloaded the updated drivers, I even tried a different USB port but nothing worked. I was getting extremely frustrated because I don’t like anomalies, things that happen without a reason. Just in case I was doing something wrong, I closed everything down and asked my Mum to try it herself. I was not using the computer so my keyboard was not open. She signed in to MSN for me, started the webcam…there were no lines at all – perfect image. This couldn’t be right so I asked her to try again and exactly the same clear image occurred. I asked her to try once more but this time with my keyboard running and the problem reappeared, lines all across the image. There appeared to be a connection between the problem and my keyboard running simultaneously. As a precaution, I opened Microsoft’s own on- screen keyboard (found in either accessories>accessibility or accessories>ease of access) and the problem still occurred. I was relieved as the issue still arose with software running developed by the world’s leading software creator – Microsoft.  

The more you see the less you know

I decided to contact “A”s Customer Support, explain the problem to them thinking that because “A” was their product they would be extremely helpful and suggest a resolution. Two emails between each other, and following their advice with no success, they said it was a problem with my software and they couldn’t help any further. From the tone of the email they weren’t too interested in researching it either. So, in effect, they were saying that Microsoft’s software was incompatible with their product. Somehow I don’t believe Microsoft would have allowed that to happen. I knew that “A”s creators would have helped, I saw that I was wrong. I was faced with the dilemma of having the lines or not opening the keyboard and not communicating. I decided to take it back to the store, who were extremely helpful, and I exchanged it for a different make of webcam (“B”) and it worked perfectly, no problems at all with my on-screen keyboard (and also Microsoft’s on-screen keyboard) running simultaneously.  

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal

The above line is from the American Declaration of Independence and I feel it is appropriate to this article. That sentence means everyone is the same, have the same rights, privileges and should not be limited in any way. This example regarding the webcam shows that even in today’s technological development and message of equality, companies are unwilling to spend a little more time and money testing that their product is compatible with software used by the disabled. There are so many other issues that can be encountered and it isn’t just with webcams, it can be anything computer related. Sometimes the minority, the “different” people are still ignored.  

Your experiences

So what do you all think? Have you ever found a piece of hardware/software that was incompatible with software used by the disabled? Do you feel that companies could do even slightly more to ensure these problems don’t arise? All comments are welcome.

Matthew’s Natter: ICT in Havering welcomes its new guest columnist Matthew Turk…

About myself

My name is Matthew Turk and I suffer from a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy presenting with extremely weak muscles. This means my mobility is very limited and I am confined to an electric wheelchair. Due to these limitations obviously I cannot participate in normal activities, I’m sure Arsenal wouldn’t appreciate tyre marks from my electric wheelchair on the Emirates pitch. With special adaptations and programs I can however regularly use my computer and spend most of my time on there. Playing games, writing and chatting to my friends are my adventures in cyberspace. Everyone loves the Internet. 

Different people, different reactions

The Internet. Two powerful words that make different people have contrasting reactions and emotions. For the teenagers and younger children the Internet has always been around, it opens so many possibilities for them. For the people in their twenties, the Internet was a revolution in the way we communicate ideas and even meeting new people. For the disabled, the Internet means freedom from our limitations and a chance to be seen as “normal”. Finally for the parents, the Internet instantly worries them for the safety of their children, whether it is a danger for their children to be involved with Internet multiplayer games or online chatting. 

Holding back

I am physically disabled with severe muscular limitations. We do live in a world where just that sentence can mean, if I am talking to someone online, they immediately stop talking to me. It is an unfortunate fact. Following this, I have learnt to withhold personal information until I have got to know the person. Those like myself, teenagers and younger people know that there are benefits to not revealing information. We have learnt that talking about hobbies, interests, school/college/uni, anything that is not personal information, can give a good impression of the person and whether to continue talking to them. 

It’s good to talk

Normally throughout conversation online, you get to know someone’s personality. Rarely though do I disclose any information about my condition until I am about to add the person to my MSN. I get worried that if I do, and the person is “discriminatory”, the information will be passed on and so more people will not talk. Using this method, I can see who is actually worth talking to because if we have regular conversations after I have added them, my condition obviously doesn’t scare or phase them. There is a website I go on which has a nice little community of “regulars”. While I have never spoken to most of the regulars, the few that I have talked to were fine when I added them to MSN. 

We want to break free

I guess people chat online for a very simple reason: it’s a place to talk to people without having stereotypes, because there are no labels online. We hide personal information about ourselves so that we have the potential to be just “anyone”. It gives us the freedom to get to know each other and who we are, without any judgements on appearances. Even celebrities have admitted that they chat online using an alias, just to be a normal regular person. I think if we don’t frown upon that and can understand it, then we can easily understand why the youngsters sometimes do too. 

Positive responses

I have a friend in Canada and we talk every night. We first started talking on a particular website and as always I didn’t volunteer any information about my condition. Once we started talking on MSN I told her more, and she was fine about it all. This is why I think if people learn about the other person, just conversation about every day events, not revealing information isn’t that bad. 

We should remember…

Of course there are dangers on the Internet, perhaps too many to write here. I do believe though, especially with my experiences online, that games and chat rooms are being monitored much better. We all know how some people behave online and how scary that thought is. If the rooms become even more closely monitored and multiplayer games strengthen their surveillance, Internet safety can improve.  

What do you think?

So what have your online experiences been? Do you feel the Internet can be a safe place? Or are there too many dangers to ever feel comfortable online? Please add your comments…