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…
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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