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Yahoo Messenger gets slicker

Latest version of Yahoo Messenger rocks with new interface, call forwarding, synchronized videos and photos, and new emoticons.

The new Yahoo Messenger toolbar lets you send an instant message, text message or call a contact with one click.

Yahoo is launching a new version of its popular Yahoo Messenger on Tuesday that lets you forward phone calls and instant messages and watch videos and view photos with friends, among other enhancements. But probably the most popular thing will be the new emoticons.

Yahoo Messenger 9.0 has a redesigned interface with new "skin" background designs and new emoticons for expressions like "thumbs up," "thumbs down," and "rock on," (yes, the little yellow face ball is holding up its second and fourth fingers in the rock-star pose).

Beyond the surface, some of the changes are even more impressive. For instance, it's easier to call, text or IM contacts by simply hovering over the contact name and clicking. You can also click an arrow to the left of the contact and see a larger version of their avatar, contact them, start an e-mail session, and edit their information. And you can send a text message to someone's phone using your computer keyboard. These communications features were here before but were just not as apparent or easy as they are now.

You can also forward offline IMs to a mobile device and forward incoming phone calls to a phone number.

Sharing online map links doesn't open a new browser window, but displays the map in the IM window, allowing you to zoom and scroll around.

You can also send videos from YouTube, Yahoo Video and other sources, and you and your contact can watch the synchronized video via a sharing window, pausing to chat or replay.

The same thing with photos from Flickr or your desktop. You and your contact can view them together via a sharing window.

And file transfers between contacts can be up to two gigabytes in size, double the previous size limit. If you have Norton antivirus on your desktop, the files can be scanned for viruses as well.

Some changes will be instantly noticeable. For instance, the contacts have two lines now, with the status message on its own line. But you can condense that back to one line if you like. You can also insert emoticons within the status messages--like I could say I'm "in a meeting" and have the "sleepy" emoticon next to it with the "zzzzs" trailing up.

Yahoo is expanding the service to more countries and languages, too. People in Thailand and Indonesia now can instant message in their native language, and in India they have nine new languages to choose from. The service has been localized in six new markets, bringing the total to 25 markets reached.

Now, how do you say "Rock on!" in Hindi?

Update Oct 30: Yahoo has explained what it meant by "unlimited file transfer,"--while people will be able to send as many files as they want, the size of files they will be able to send at one time is limited to two gigabytes.