Windows Live Messenger launches public beta

Next generation of MSN Messenger lets people make calls from PCs to landline phones and back.

Microsoft has launched a public beta of Windows Live Messenger, an instant-messaging program that features international PC-to-telephone calls with video capability.

As part of the beta, Uniden and Royal Philips Electronics will sell cordless phones that work with the service, allowing people to make both Messenger-based and landline phone calls from the handset.

The PC-to-phone feature makes local and international calls through a Verizon Internet telephony service that has been expanded to include Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands. Called Verizon Web Calling, the service previously covered only the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain.

Windows Live Messenger also builds a unified contact list that draws on information from other applications.

Those who have broadband and a Webcam can use Messenger's video-calling capabilities to see one another while speaking. MSN Messenger, the parent application of Windows Live Messenger, offers PC-to-PC calling with video capability and PC-to-mobile instant messaging, but no landline-calling capabilities.

Windows Live Messenger is part of Windows Live, Microsoft's new line of online software products and services. Many of the new applications are available as free beta downloads as part of Microsoft's plan to compete directly with Google for an online presence. Included in these new applications are Windows Live Mail--the next-generation Hotmail--and Windows Live Search.

Windows Live Messenger will compete with instant-messaging services from AOL, Yahoo and Google, which also offer various forms of PC-to-phone capabilities.

Last week, AOL announced that it will launch this month AIM Phoneline Unlimited, a service that lets AOL Instant Messenger users accept phone calls from anyone in the world through AOL Instant Messenger for free.

Windows Live Messenger beta is available for public download. It was previously available as a private beta by invitation.

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