Is Messenger skinning in decline?

Posted by absorbation on Sat 06 Feb 2010 (17:06 GMT) (60682 views)
The days of MSN Messenger painted a vibrant community of designers who were keen to hack into the program's resources and create some polished, unique and excellent skins. When I joined the community back in February 2005 there was an vast array of high quality and imaginative skin designs to choose from, but today with Windows Live Messenger 2009, the community seems to have become stagnant.

Wait a minute, but surely skinning now has more depth and a smaller learning curve thanks to Messenger Plus! Live? While this is true the issue today is the end a thriving community to extrapolate anything from the available modern resources.

Looking back to MSN Messenger 7.5

For me MSN Messenger was the golden era of skin development. Granted there were significantly fewer releases, it is difficult to argue the quality of most end products were nothing short of spectacular. One could argue MSN Messenger was unattractive and users wanted something different, encouraging skinners? I disagree, looking at designs of the past there was just a different caliber of designer.

Pictured above: A small selection of excellent MSN Messenger skins

Back then skinning was more complicated. All resources were individually modified, there were custom installers created and many tutorials were constructed on editing individual build's UIFiles. The talent out there was uncanny. Names such as Terill, the unknown, ipab, Stian, Matti and Rolando may not ring any bells for some, but these individuals were the core of the community. I apologise if I left anyone from that list, including Willz (but your relevance lasts until today).

The issues with Windows Live Messenger

Perhaps the turning point was when the first builds of Windows Live Messenger leaked. The new UI system of .rle files meant skinning images became impossible. For months there were several solutions being developed to allow images to be successfully edited again. In this time many skinners, including myself moved onto other projects. The prospect of designing skins seemed too much effort. Many of the skinners listed above never created anything for Windows Live Messenger. The dedicated forums to Messenger skinning went down.

With Windows Live Messenger came a significant hurdle for skin developers

There is a further argument that with Windows Live Messenger's new UI, the program became attractive enough not to encourage users to seek skins. I no long use skins as I'm perfectly satisfied with the current default design. I however, expect fall into the minority of users.

Are skins still popular?

Messenger Plus! Live has done much to revive the skinning community, allowing a new generation of designers to take the baton before it was dropped. Nevertheless its forums have become rather lifeless in recent months and skins for Windows Live Messenger 2009 have been few and far between. The Messenger Plus! Community has been commenting on the situation:

Most skinners, specially the good ones like Willz, are extremely busy with their personal lifes. And, unfortunately, there aren't that many people interested in making skins, only in requesting/using them.

The decline of IM in itself fails to attract new developers, and although the skinning platform is now more open, there is a lack of talent willing to exploit it. Windows Live Messenger 2009 has been the worse major Messenger build in terms of skinning developers and much of this boils down to the lack of designers who know what they are doing (excluding Willz).

Willz, a monopoly developer of the current skins has stated:

It happened with the transition to MSN Messenger to Windows Live Messenger. There were at least 7 people making skins at that time and then all of a sudden they all disappeared leaving about 3.

Its the same thing now, it's just up to someone new to come in a keep things going. Really a person can only skin for so long before their personal lives become more involved and it becomes time to move on.

Ultimately its up to the new people to carry things onto 2010.

MenthiX, moderator of the Messenger Plus! Skins database commented:

Looking at the raw stats it doesn't look so bad. Still millions of people using Plus!, number of active users fairly steady, certainly when you take into account the long time since the last major Plus! release (which always gives a nice boost). People are still downloading skins.

Messenger Plus! Live has created more resources for skinners, including shaping of windows

To conclude

Currently Messenger skinning is in decline. There are fewer developers and many (not all) of the ones present lack the eye for good UI design. The once glory days of the MSN Messenger era appear to be over, but hopefully with Windows Live Messenger 2010 and a more open skinning platform there will be some talented individuals attracted to the application. Thus in answer to the original question, no skinning is not dead and skins are still popular, however the current health of the community has left current developments on the whole rather motionless.

Tags:   Skins  Skinning  Community    

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Comment by Chris
Posted on Sun 07 Feb 2010 (17:18 GMT)
I agree with Menthix. I really hope things can be turned around. I remember joining the Messenger Plus! forums way back in 2004 and the amount of hype there was if anything changed in Messenger. How things change over time.

Comment by Menthix
Posted on Sun 07 Feb 2010 (14:58 GMT)
Nice writeup. Not only is skinning on the decline, Messenger-related news sites and blogs are too.'s last post was over 3 months ago. Good to see somebody is still writing when there is something relevant to write about.

I hope WLM 2010 and MP!L 5 are able to revive things with new major features.

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