Microsoft is planning to force existing Windows Live Messengers users to upgrade to Skype from April 8th. In an effort to phase out its Messenger service, Windows Live Messenger clients will be restricted from signing into the service gradually starting in early April. Microsoft will be migrating users depending on their language, starting with English first and ending with Portuguese no sooner than April 30th.

Forced Skype upgrade starts for English users first

Contrary to Microsoft's confusing email to some Windows Live Messenger users, and other reports, Windows Live Messenger will not cease functioning on March 15th for everyone. Microsoft has been testing its migration plans with a test cell, so a very small number will move over on March 15th, but 99 percent of users will start shifting across from April 8th onwards. "The upgrade process itself has been going really well, we've had millions of customers move over," says Skype's Parri Munsell.

Existing Windows Live Messenger users will be greeted with an upgrade notification from April 8th onwards that will prevent them from signing into the service. Microsoft is pre-caching the Skype installer to existing machines to allow users to simply accept the notification and switch over to Skype, while the installer removes Windows Live Messenger.

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Third-party clients remain unaffected, for now

Munsell says Microsoft is upgrading other apps that access the Messenger service on a case-by-case basis, including mobile apps. "On products like Xbox, we'll make announcements at a later date when we have dates to actually announce to customers." The software maker has also notified third parties about its plans to retire the entire Messenger service. "They do have end of life dates that we've given them privately," says Munsell. The dates vary by third-party, but official documentation suggests that existing clients using the XMPP protocol will end in October, while MSP clients will cease functioning in March 2014.

We reached out to several popular third-party Messenger apps, but developers seem to be confused over Microsoft's retirement. Trillian's Scott Werndorfer says "we're not sure how the shutdown will occur or what additional steps Microsoft has planned." Adium, a popular client for Mac, says communications have been "pretty fuzzy" and that it hasn't heard anything directly regarding an official date. Microsoft says only official licensees of Messenger will get specific end dates.

Windows 8 and Windows Phone unaffected

Microsoft's own Windows 8 and Windows Phone clients will continue to function, and the company says April 8th is strictly focused on phasing out the Windows Live Messenger desktop client. The switch over to Skype does present a few issues for Windows 8 and Windows Phone users though. Windows 8 uses a Messenger Windows Store client that triggers notifications for Messenger messages. If you install a Skype client then you'll run into an issue with dual notifications. Munsell admits this is a possibility, but that "the customer just needs to configure those clients so that they're doing pop-up notifications on the one that they want to reply on."

It's not an ideal situation, and if you have linked Facebook contacts to your Skype account then you could end up with three contact entries for the same person: Messenger, Skype, and Facebook. The company doesn't have any immediate plans to link these in the client, so it raises questions over an upgrade that also removes functionality for Windows Live Messenger users. Skype does not currently support mail notifications, Messenger status updates, and the ability to add additional Messenger contacts. Microsoft is helping users transition with a set of online tutorials.

Still, Microsoft is pushing ahead and this marks the first major change to the Skype and Microsoft relationship since the $8.5 billion acquisition. If this first sign of integration helps move Microsoft towards Skype in every product to compete against services like WhatsApp, iMessage, Google Talk, and others then it will benefit all who rely on Microsoft's ecosystem of software and services in the long run.