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Microsoft Adds V-Chat to MSN

Microsoft has added a chat service called V-Chat communications to its online service, Microsoft Network (MSN). V-Chat allows MSN users to communicate with avatars in a 3D environment. The beta version is scheduled for an early December release with the final release in mid-January, according to company officials.

Users can express smiling, flirting, waving, acting silly, and so on by controlling their avatar's gestures. The avatars can either "say" a message that appears in quotes or "think" a message that appears in a bubble.

MSN is currently developing other features for V-Chat including Cinemania Connection, an area where users can discuss films or watch a movie in the virtual movie theater. Music Central Connection will include the Lava Love Lounge, featuring seventies music, planned for release at the end of December, and an alternative music club, a jazz caf?, and a street scene to debut shortly thereafter. PlanetOut is aimed at the gay and lesbian community and includes information on entertainment, education, and politics.

Microsoft also today added features and services to the MSN site. One new feature allows users to add content from selected Web sites, including sports scores from ESPN and movie show times, to automatically appear on their MSN home page. You do not have to be an MSN subscribers to use this service, according to company officials.

In a bid to take some of the wind out of Microsoft's sails, Worlds Incorporated has unveiled a free beta version of AlphaWorld, its online virtual community. AlphaWorld includes 3D graphics, virtual reality, Net chat, and multi-user avatar technology, according to company officials.

Users of AlphaWorld can own virtual land, build a home on it, and explore the environment. Each user shares the space with others and has the option of chatting with anyone on the system at the same time. When users "speak," their message is displayed in a bubble over their avatar's head.

AlphaWorld is currently in the testing stages. New features and a new interface are scheduled to be introduced early next year.