Yahoo tests new IM software

Company set to unveil a test version that promotes VoIP and the company's new social network.

Yahoo late Tuesday will introduce a test version of its instant-messaging software that promotes VoIP and the company's new social network.

Yahoo, whose No. 2 instant-chat service, Yahoo Messenger, has an estimated 65 million users worldwide, will offer a free update during the software's test phase. In addition to letting people send standard instant text messages, the new version is designed to make it easy to call friends free via computer, send a short text message to a mobile device, share photos and post content to a personal Web log.

Despite the bevy of enhancements, Yahoo said it focused particularly on VoIP by placing a "click to call" button on center stage, by adding voice mail features and by optimizing voice connections to and from those with broadband and those with dial-up.

"E-mail was the killer application from the mid- to late '90s, then instant chat came second, now VoIP is opening up the third chapter," Frazier Miller, director of Yahoo Messenger, said in an interview.

The move comes shortly after America Online, which boasts the No. 1 chat service, began testing software that integrates voice, data, mobile and video communication. Both media companies are eyeing opportunities to leverage their large, loyal audiences to promote more usage of their network's services and help people grow accustomed to using VoIP and online video.

Yahoo has offered free PC-to-PC voice calling since 1999, but initial enthusiasm for the service faded quickly. In 2002, Yahoo pushed VoIP to the sidelines by removing a "PC phone calling" button from Messenger version 5.5 to accommodate a button for text messaging cell phones. The "PC phone calling" button, now called "Call Computer," makes its return to prime real estate in the latest Messenger version.

Only recently, Miller said the company re-evaluated itself as a communications provider, outside of just servicing e-mail and IM accounts. Video and voice are also key parts to the equation, he said. And as all of those forms of communication converge on IP networks, Yahoo has the opportunity to be the go-to operator.

That's why in its new application, Yahoo is trying to remove the roadblocks consumers experience when moving from one form of communication to another. For example, Yahoo has created a contact card for subscribers to fill out and share with friends so that people can synchronize their address books.

Yahoo also now tests headsets and other PC peripherals to ensure compatibility with Messenger. A Plantronics headset, the $25 .Audio 70, is the first to be certified, according to a Plantronics spokesman.

Yahoo also meshed the new application with Yahoo 360, a social network featuring free blogs and content-sharing. The new tool lets people post content into their personal blogs from the IM window.

CNET reporter Ben Charny contributed to this story.
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