As of Tuesday, Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger users will now be able to send instant messages to Facebook friends who are logged into the social-networking service.
Microsoft is the first of the major instant-messaging services to connect directly to Facebook Chat. It's part of an effort by the folks in Redmond to evolve Messenger from purely an instant-messaging program to a social hub with activity feeds, video chat, and other connection options.
The addition of the Facebook Chat connection comes as part of an update to the test versions of the next generation of Windows Live programs. Not all users will get the Facebook chat feature at once; Microsoft is starting with the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and Brazil.
Microsoft is also updating the other "essentials" programs including Windows Live Photo Gallery, Writer, Movie Maker, Sync, and Family Safety.
Microsoft first outlined the "Wave 4" update to Windows Live in June. Among the big changes are the addition of facial recognition and other new features that will become part of the photo editing program.
With no major update to Windows 7 coming, Microsoft is counting on the Windows Live enhancements to help give its platform a boost as it enters the all-important holiday shopping season.
As part of Tuesday's "refresh" of the beta, all of the programs get bug fixes and performance tweaks. Among the other noteworthy changes, Movie Maker users will now be able to upload to Flickr. In Photo Gallery, users will be able to locate their geotagged photos on a Bing Map.
Microsoft said the downloads should be available later Tuesday. As for the final release of the new Windows Live, Microsoft director Dharmesh Mehta said that it is planned for the next couple of months. "It's not that far off," Mehta said.
There are still a few features to be added, Mehta said, and another refresh of the beta is possible, but not a certainty.
Meanwhile, Mehta says that all Hotmail users are now moved to the new version that was unveiled earlier this year. The rollout took a bit longer than some users would have liked and there were some bumps along the way.
Most of the bugs have been ironed out, Mehta said, though there is still an issue with regard to using Hotmail in conjunction with one wireless carrier's broadband cards. That, he said, is being worked on.