MSN Messenger Gets Music Integration

BetaNews has learned that the latest beta builds of MSN Messenger 7 have begun exhibiting signs that Microsoft plans to integrate its music properties into the software. Beta build 604 implements a feature that enables users to jam a playlist of the songs that they are listening to within their personal message. But Microsoft is now singing a different tune on the final release date.

In contrast to the noted progress, Windows enthusiast sites are abuzz with rumors that the client will be delayed, and Microsoft has added to the confusion by issuing conflicting statements about when the final version will ship.

The playlist feature is borrowed from Microsoft's ThreeDegrees test bed, which already offers steaming media playlists. It is presumed that songs in a user's playlist will be linked to the MSN Music store as Microsoft continues its attempts to position itself against rivals.

"This integration is simply a way to leverage the popularity of MSN Messenger to get more traffic to MSN Music, which is trying to compete with Apple's iTunes Music Store," remarked Directions on Microsoft Senior Analyst Matt Rosoff.

"This is a digital media platform play: iTunes' success threatens the Windows Media Platform. If Microsoft can convince more users to download songs from MSN Music, then they might be convinced to buy portable and networked devices that can play those files, instead of an iPod."

A public beta of MSN Messenger 7 was issued in December 2004 and served as a bellwether for what customers should expect from MSN. The playlist feature is a momentum note: Microsoft is working to make MSN services more discoverable across the business unit's products and has done so by integrating presence awareness into its Hotmail e-mail service and MSN Spaces blogging tools.

The client continues to borrow from ThreeDegrees by implementing some of its personalization options such as "winks" and "nudges," and will also include new transactional services, online status options, better contact management, and MSN Search functions.

What's more, audiophiles will pick up on the modest improvements that will have made to the software's overall sound quality.

When asked about the beta, Microsoft opted not to remark on it specifically but stated, "The public beta of MSN Messenger, released in December, offers customers new ways to connect, express themselves online and personalize their instant messaging experience and will give customers a taste of what's to come with the final release. The final release of MSN Messenger will be dependent on the beta feedback. At this point, we are aiming to release the final service later this year."

Internally, however, MSN Messenger 7 was slated to ship during the first quarter of 2005. It is unclear why Microsoft has now made the file release date open-ended, but Windows enthusiast site Mess.Be is pointing to delays caused by problems encountered during beta testing. Previous builds of the software were modified due to security concerns.

An MSN spokesperson refused to characterize the change in public comments as a delay. "When we announced the Messenger beta in December, we never set a date of when we would release the final version; it was dependant on the beta feedback, so this isn't a delay."

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