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Aimster sets sights on MSN, Napster messengers

A new release of the instant messaging and file-swapping software will support new plug-ins that could tap into services such as MSN Messenger or even Napster's chat service.

Software company Aimster is expanding its bid to merge the worlds of chat and file swapping.

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A new release of the Aimster instant messaging and file-swapping software, expected as soon as Tuesday evening, will support new plug-ins that could tap into services such as Microsoft's MSN Messenger or even Napster's chat service.

The basic Aimster will still piggyback solely on an America Online client, AOL Instant Messenger. But Aimster is working with outside developers to create a plug-in for MSN's chat software and expects other open-source developers to produce similar products that would allow it to talk to Yahoo and Napster, spokesman Johnny Deep said. The plug-in plans have been in the works since September.

Although the mix of Aimster software and outside plug-ins will allow chat aficionados to use a single interface to talk to people on multiple networks, Aimster is stopping short of trying to connect different chat networks directly. That path, once pursued by AOL critics including Microsoft and Yahoo, saw AOL block its rivals' attempts to link networks.

Instead, the Aimster software simply serves as a single interface for chats happening on different networks. When the plug-ins become available, an Aimster member talking to two different individuals might be simultaneously sending messages through AOL's network and MSN's servers, for example. Earlier products such as MyCQ have tried similar ways of melding messaging software.

"America Online now controls a lot of the market, but MSN and Yahoo are creeping up," Deep said. "There are a fair number of people doing cross platforms."

If successful, Deep said, Aimster could link more than 140 million instant messenger users. Aimster has signed close to 2 million members since its launch Aug. 9.

In addition to the IM service, it allows the sharing of all kinds of files, including those in MP3 format. But unlike the giant of file-swapping applications--Napster--Aimster doesn't open a hard drive to anybody. Instead, people can create file-swapping "buddy" groups.

Also unlike Napster, Aimster has won some cooperation from at least one record label.

Capitol Records, a subsidiary of EMI Group, tapped the file-swapping start-up in September to help promote the most recent release by British band Radiohead. Although that album was widely available on Napster in advance of its release, it debuted at the top of the sales charts in the United States.'s John Borland contributed to this report.