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Libon to IM friends for free, even if they don't have its app

The new service, from Orange's Libon app, lets you receive messages from Libon users and reply via HTML5 in your phone's browser.

Now playing: Watch this: Libon Open Chat takes on WhatsApp with HTML5 IM tech

European operator Orange's Libon messaging and calling app will add a new feature that lets you send text, picture, and audio messages to your contacts for free -- even if they're not Libon users themselves.

The Open Chat feature goes live on iOS later Thursday, with an Android update planned "in the coming weeks." When a Libon user sends a message to a non-Libon user, they'll be sent a link that takes them to an HTML5 chat window where they can continue the conversation. The HTML5 interface will also work on desktop browsers, as well as tablets.

That gives you the power to chat with all your contacts for free, without having to hassle your buddies to download a dedicated app, which has been a stumbling block for similar apps like WhatsApp or Viber.

Libon also lets you make unlimited calls to other Libon users and hooks up to your voicemail, allowing you to leave custom messages for certain contacts, or have your voicemail transcribed into text form for speedy reading. A CNET review of the app found that it's great for free calls but that the paid-for subscription version isn't a great value. The company told me that Open Chat will be part of the free package, so it won't require you to splash any cash.

Libon will show off Open Chat at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.