MSN Debuts Messenger 6 Preview

UPDATED Microsoft has launched a public preview of its next generation instant messaging client, MSN Messenger 6. The fresh release sports new emoticons and customizable identities designed to create a "virtual playground."

An early beta version of MSN Messenger 6 leaked out in May, offering enthusiasts a peek at Microsoft's IM plans. Although Redmond usually condemns the spread of unauthorized beta releases, the company has embraced the promotion, openly boasting the number of illicit downloads.

"The viral spread of the beta to 2 million people, without any effort on our part, is testament to the strength of this service," said Blake Irving, corporate vice president of MSN. "The personalization features are especially popular with IMers. People are really excited about creating their own online identity, and trading custom emoticons, cool display pictures and new backgrounds with their IM buddies. People also are very excited about integrated game and integrated webcam capabilities."

MSN Messenger 6 includes 30 new emoticons and enables users to choose from over 150 fonts and 16 colors of type. Logging has also been implemented to save important conversations with just one click.

Along with customization, the major focus of version 6 is a new integrated service dubbed Launch Site that lets users share photos or files, and play games such as minesweeper and solitaire. Microsoft expects to add new games and services to Launch Site over time, all accessible from directly within the MSN Messenger interface.

The preview of MSN Messenger 6 is available for download in 26 languages for Windows 9x, 2000 and Windows XP. While Microsoft reigns as king of IM in 12 counties, Redmond hopes to draw more users away from Yahoo! and market leader AOL.

"If the momentum for MSN and MSN Messenger, as well as the immense buzz that's building around the new version, are any indication, MSN Messenger 6 is well on its way to becoming a global phenomenon," said Yusuf Mehdi, MSN corporate vice president.

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