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AOL Unleashes Instant Messenger 4.0

America Online Inc. launched the latest volley in the instant messaging war Monday by adding voice communication and image sharing to version 4.0 of its AOL Instant Messenger.

Released for Windows and Macintosh, AIM 4.0 features AIM Talk, which enables online voice communication between AIM users from any Internet-enabled PC. This feature is integrated into AIM so that users can check to see who is online and make a call with a single click.

Instant Images lets users send and receive photos, images and sounds to one another, adding a new dimension to instant online communications. Also among the new version features is a new batch of Buddy icons, which let users personalize messages and a suite of "alert" tools that give users the heads-up on e-mails, stocks, and Buddy calls.

"By conveniently packaging together consumer-friendly communications features and delivering new levels of personalization and interactivity, we expect AIM 4.0 to supercharge the instant messaging revolution and be a significant catalyst for new growth, usage and creative expression," Jonathan Sacks, senior vice president, AOL (AOL) interactive services group.

AIM, which recently surpassed 50 million registered users, is the free Internet extension of AOL's Buddy List network instant messaging community with over 90 million AOL members and AIM users combined. Over the past year, AOL inked AIM agreements with Netscape, Lycos Inc. (LCOS) and Apple Computer Corp. (APPL)

Though it is was first oriented toward personal users, AIM is catching fire in the B2B sector as quick, convenient communications tool. AOL has been quick to defend access by other firms to its tool, however, as CMGI-owned iCAST found last month when its clients tried to access AOL's users.

The blockage was not the first by AOL, which last July staunched a new version of Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) messenger service that included a free Hotmail account and an AOL Instant Messenger account. AOL stopped MSN users from accessing its services and a fight between the companies began. Microsoft ended up hacking into AOL's servers, and AOL worked block the intrusion. In November, Microsoft conceded, abandoning its connection to AOL's messaging service.



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