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Emails were sent out to Windows Live Messenger users today notifying them that the Microsoft is shutting down the chat service on March 15 of this year.

We heard about this back in November, but now there is a set date for the elimination of Messenger. It’s the end of the era for one of Microsoft’s most widely used online services, but it’s not a huge surprise, given the $8.5 billion that Microsoft spent to acquire Skype.

Messenger users can make the transition to Skype by installing or upgrading to the latest version on Windows PCs and Macs and signing in using their Microsoft accounts, formerly known as Windows Live IDs. The company says Messenger contacts will be imported to Skype automatically.

The change will be an adjustment for some Messenger users — the Skype interface is more tuned toward video calling, with instant messaging as more of an afterthought, whereas Messenger’s focus was instant messaging first, centered around a buddy list and status notifications. Those elements are there in Skype, just not as prominently displayed.

Previously on GeekWire: Skype updates Windows Phone app, temporarily nixes People Hub integration

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