Windows Live Messenger Launches

Microsoft on Monday rolled out the final version of Windows Live Messenger to 240 million users, marking the official launch of its Windows Live family of services. New features include built-in calling and shared folders.

Like many other instant messaging clients, Microsoft has made calling features a centerpiece of Windows Live Messenger. Users will be able to place free PC-to-PC calls, and even call traditional phone numbers for a small fee through a partnership with Verizon.

The Windows Live Call service will additionally integrate with telephone handsets from Uniden in the United States and Philips in Europe. Motorola also announced plans to offer a cordless handset with support for Windows Live services later this year.

Video calling is made possible through audio and video technology provided by Logitech. Microsoft says over 20 million video chats take place across its network each month, and the company has developed its own line of webcams dubbed LifeCams that are optimized for the service.

Other new functionality in Windows Live Messenger is Sharing Folders, which enables consumers to send a file to their contacts by simply dragging it into a folder. Contacts are kept up to date through Windows Live Contacts, a new Plaxo-like service that is also used by Windows Live Mail and MSN Spaces. Microsoft says over 25 million individuals are already using Live Contacts.

“The launch of Windows Live Messenger represents a significant down payment on the Windows Live vision and an important milestone for the business," Martin Taylor, corporate vice president of Windows Live, said in a statement. "We’re proud and excited to release this product to consumers, who have helped shape the service during our beta process.”

Microsoft is readying more than 20 new Windows Live services to follow Messenger. "This evening marks the launch of Windows Live Messenger and the launch of Windows Live in general," Karin Muskopf, Windows Live product manager, told BetaNews. While Windows Live OneCare launched first, Messenger is the "first major Windows Live Service that customers are familiar with."

The final release of Windows Live Messenger will be a mandatory upgrade for all beta testers, but MSN Messenger users can choose to stay on the older client. Microsoft says it will notify MSN Messenger users of the available upgrade through a pop-up dialog box in the coming weeks. Users do not need to uninstall MSN Messenger before upgrading.

Windows Live Messenger -- available in 26 languages -- is specifically designed for Windows XP Service Pack 2, although the software should run on Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista Beta 2. Microsoft will likely only officially support Vista when the next-generation operating system is released early next year.

To help promote the launch of the service, Microsoft has teamed up with Disney to offer exclusive access to an online game called "Dead Man's Tale." The game is based on the upcoming film "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest," and will offer peeks into the sequel's storyline and clips from the movie.

"There are very few discernable differences between this version and the beta because, as I said, we’ve been doing clean up," the Windows Live Messenger team commented on its blog. "But if you’re upgrading from MSN Messenger to Windows Live Messenger, then you’ll be seeing A LOT of changes."

Microsoft did, however, have one piece of bad news for users. Muskopf told BetaNews that @live.com and @windowslive.com addresses will not be available for registration starting June 20 as initially planned. The company is working out some last minute tweaks and the new domains for Windows Live ID will debut at a later date.

The final version of Windows Live Messenger, build 8.0.0787, is available for download from FileForum.

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