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AOL launches beta for voice-enabled messenger

America Online plans to take its AOL Instant Messenger service one step closer to the telephone.

America Online is planning to take its AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) service one step closer to the telephone.

The company is testing a voice-enabled service on its next-generation instant messenger product Puppet masters: Who controls the  Netcalled AIM Talk. The software allows users to communicate by voice through their PCs by speaking into a computer microphone.

An AOL representative said the company plans to officially release the new software by the end of this year.

AOL's messenger product has gained enormous popularity that spans beyond its proprietary membership. Web users who are not AOL members can download the software and communicate in real time with AOL members and other AIM users.

Although the service has become a de facto standard for instant messaging communications because of its popularity, it has also had its share of criticism. During the summer Microsoft launched its own instant messaging service, MSN Messenger, which included a feature allowing its users to communicate with AIM users.

Although Microsoft considered its actions as a way to accelerate the adoption of an industry-wide instant messaging standard, AOL criticized the move as a hack into its system. The companies have since jousted over the issue after AOL decided to block the software giant from accessing its network.