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Microsoft And Yahoo Get Instant Messaging Ready To Carry Heavier Freight

Microsoft and Yahoo are beefing up their instant-messaging applications to give people more choice in how they talk to each other, whether it's using text, voice, or other plug-in applications. IM's already made itself at home in many workplaces, and these new forms of IM could make them all the more tempting, creating yet another security headache for IT managers.

Microsoft's latest version of Windows Live Messenger, available starting this week, comes with a new feature called Verizon Web Calling that lets users place local, long-distance, and international calls from their computers to almost any phone, including cell phones. Users can make the call by clicking an entry within their contact list or by typing a phone number into the Windows Live Call online dial pad. But calling's not free. Customers need to sign up for Verizon Web Calling through the Windows Live Messenger Program, and buy calling time from Verizon in $5, $10, or $15 bunches to use with the service.

Windows Live Messenger also includes video calling and an application for sharing folders. For example, users can drag and drop files and photos into the application from their desktops. With the video calling app, users can view and talk to others on their PCs in full-screen video. MSN Messenger and Windows Live Messenger have more than 20 million video conversation users each month, says Microsoft.

Yahoo's beta version of its real-time communications suite, introduced Tuesday, also includes more sophisticated features than traditional IM apps. It comes with plug-ins, which are free mini applications that can be added to Yahoo Messenger for a more personalized IM experience. The plug-ins include ties to several popular consumer Internet services include Amazon.com, eBay, and Yahoo Calendar.

Yahoo also opened up its Application Program Interfaces to encourage third-party developers to build plug-ins for its IM application. It's the first time Yahoo is opening up its platform to spark innovation, the company says.

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