Windows Live Messenger error message hell

Recently I tried to sign into Live Messenger on Windows 7, only to be informed of what appears to be a temporary interruption in service.

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Show details, by the way, shows Error code: 80040154

I retried and got the same message, so I clicked the Get more information link, which took me here:

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The help document says that the solution is to reinstall Windows Live Essentials. I confirmed this, not by reinstalling (yet), but by trying Live Messenger on another machine, where I could sign into the same account successfully.

A few observations about this:

  • The error message is incorrect, since the error is apparently on the client whereas the message states it is a temporary problem with the service.
  • Microsoft’s engineers know that the error message is incorrect, since the help document references both the message and the solution.
  • The error message has been incorrect for years, since it applies to both Windows Live Messenger 2009 and 2011.
  • The misleading error message is particularly annoying, since if the user wants to use Live Messenger urgently they may well wait as advised by the message, not realising that the problem can be fixed immediately.
  • The solution is a brute-force one that involves many other applications, including Live Mail and Live Writer (on which I am typing this post). Or is it enough just to reinstall Messenger? The message suggests not. However if you use Live Mail for all your email, you probably want to know whether the uninstall will delete all your email and contacts or not. The referenced article on uninstalling Live Essentials does not say.

How could Microsoft improve this? At risk of stating the obvious:

  • Give an accurate error message.
  • Give a solution which targets the exact problem rather than relying on an uninstall/reinstall procedure that changes many things that are working fine.
  • If this is impossible, at least advise the user in one place concerning their obvious questions, such as “what happens to my stuff”.

Update: I found the cause of this problem. A developer tool beta had overwritten my system path with its own, breaking this among other things. I do not blame any application for breaking in these circumstances. I fixed the Live Messenger problem by performing a Repair on Live Essentials – less risky than uninstall/reinstall, and in this case sufficient.

Another idea if you have this kind of problem is System Restore.

Nevertheless, the error message could do with some work!

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