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Microsoft Broadly Releases Windows Live Messenger Beta

A beta version of Windows Live Messenger, considered the next generation of the company's popular MSN Messenger instant messaging service, is now broadly available for download, Microsoft said Tuesday.

Until now, the beta was available to a few million invited testers, Microsoft said in a statement. At the top of the feature list for the newly-released beta is expanded PC-to-phone calling service, the company said. Users already can make calls to and between the U.S., the U.K., Spain, France and Germany. Microsoft said that, starting next week, users will also be able to call the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Finland and Italy via the Verizon Web Calling service.

The announcement comes on the heels of Skype saying last week it will start supporting conversations among groups as large as 100 users and AOL saying it is moving more aggressively into the voice market. by adding service to its AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) service.

Microsoft said that cordless phones are now available from Uniden and Philips that are specifically designed to work with the Windows Live Call system. The phones also will be able to make regular landline calls, the company said.

Also featured in the beta is a featured called shared folders, which the company says enables users to drag and drop files, such as digital photos, to the Windows Live Messenger window. Another new feature is the ability to send messages to users who are not online.

The messages are delivered the next time the recipient logs on, Microsoft said.

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