Orange has announced that its customers in France would be able to access the Microsoft Live Messenger service (formally MSN Messenger) on some models of mobile phone from December. The UK and Spain are scheduled to follow next year.
But the software giant remains vague on who exactly will be able to use the service.
The rollout will be limited by the availability of compatible software, on a range of handsets, and not limited to those running Windows Mobile or its derivatives.
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said the software would differ from that already available on Windows Mobile, though the details aren't yet available.
In fact, very few details are being provided at all. When pushed for information about the software, capabilities, handsets supported, or what is so new about the service, neither Orange nor Microsoft would be drawn.
When it was suggested that applications such as IM+ already allowed mobile users to access Windows Live, in addition to various other messaging services, Microsoft initially stated that using such an application would be illegal, though it later backpedalled and stated: "With regard to third party applications...illegal is a harsh word...we have a team trying to ascertain where we are legally with that right now."
Microsoft certainly doesn't approve of users accessing its messaging service using uncertified software, on any platform, and the fact it is examining their legality might indicate a future locking out of such applications.
Meanwhile, 3, who launched a similar service 10 weeks ago, has seen over 100 million MSN messages across its network: most of them communication between mobile and fixed users. This is ideal for 3 as it doesn't impact its SMS revenues, and it's yet to notice any decline in SMS usage.
This should come to a great relief to many in the industry, who are terrified that the addition of Instant Messaging will eat into the greatest success story of mobile telephony - SMS revenues. But it also marks an aggressive stance for Microsoft which can see that if mobile users are mainly talking to fixed users, there is only room for one messaging network - and it intends to be that network. ®