June 18, 2003 12:01 AM PDT

MSN delivers Messenger beta to public

Microsoft is asking people to try to shoot the latest MSN Messenger.

A public beta, or test version, of the upcoming instant messaging software--MSN Messenger version 6--will be available for download at the company's Web site on Wednesday, the software maker said.

Up to now, MSN Messenger 6 has been available only to private beta testers. Despite its limited release, downloads reached 2 million as of last week, according to a Microsoft memo.

The new software is designed to let people use multimedia features--such as Webcam shots, digital photos and smiley face icons--to personalize their chat windows. MSN Messenger users can also play interactive games with other members and choose from a list of wallpaper designs to change the appearance of the tool.

The MSN Messenger 6 software will be available at 11 a.m. PST on Wednesday, according to Microsoft.

Instant messaging has become a key priority at Microsoft. In addition to making ongoing refinements to MSN Messenger, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is hatching big plans for embedding instant messaging into the workplace. Later this summer, Microsoft plans to launch Office Real Time Communications (RTC) Server 2003, which will offer an instant messaging product that corporate technology departments can monitor and secure from network hackers.

Instant messaging has become one of the most popular applications on the Internet. MSN rivals such as America Online--the market leader--and Yahoo have their own instant messaging services which, like Microsoft's, are free to download and use. But the software for all three services remains proprietary, and the services cannot communicate with one another.

In May, Microsoft and AOL agreed to discuss allowing their instant messaging products to interoperate as part of Microsoft's $750 million antitrust settlement payment to AOL. However, analysts and industry players are skeptical about this promise, because executives from both companies have yet to outline any plans toward achieving interoperability.

 

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