MSN Adds VoIP, Video Calls to Messenger

Microsoft launched the latest version of its MSN Messenger client, version 7.0, which boasts a long list of new features including full screen video calls, VoIP and shared search functionality.

Microsoft also updated its MSN Spaces blogging service, which it claims is one of the fastest growing blogging communities on the planet.

The new MSN Messenger 7.0 IM client’s video features were first announced in early March. MSN Messenger 7.0 users will now be able to have full screen video conversations with other users as well as new enhanced synchronized audio that improves the audio quality of IM video conversations.

“We’ve seen video phones for years at CES [Consumer Electronics Show] and other events and I think video conversations are going to become mainstream,” Phil Holden, director of MSN global business and product management, told

MSN has also improved the method by which video IM connections are made, which promises to improve overall user experience.

“One of the problems we find today is that often times when people are making a connection, the connection fails, and that is often because of firewalls that are in the way,” Holden said. “So what we’re doing now is making a peer-to-peer connection and that goes through for the most part. But if, for example, there is a situation where it can’t get through on P2P, we’ve actually built what we think of as a reflection service. The video connection will actually go to the [Internet] cloud and tunnel in behind the firewall to enable people to make a connection. We think that is going to dramatically improve the number of times people can get connected.”

MSN Messenger 7.0 will also introduce the concept of shared search on the IM client. Using integrated MSN Search capability, users will be able to search and share results of search queries while having an IM conversation. According to Holden, MSN did a lot of research into how people use PC-to-PC calls and they specifically looked at upstart VoIP vendor Skype. As part of that analysis, officials looked at how users made use of the service and also how many users used the service to connect to the legacy PSTN telephone network.

“People tend to do a regular text conversation over IM, be it MSN Messenger, Yahoo! or AOL and then they flip over to Skype to do a PC to PC audio conversation,” Holden said.

According to MSN’s data on usage of the Skype-Out, PC to PSTN service quoted by Holden, the number of people that are actually using Skype-Out functionality is less than 10 percent. Skype was not immediately available to comment.

“From our initial research, the main driver for people is really PC to PC audio, but obviously we’re definitely investigating PSTN termination,” Holden said. “We don’t have any short term plans at the moment but its definitely on the investigation path.”

MSN Messenger 7.0 will also include a feature called “winks” which Holden described as “emoticons on steroids.” When a user “winks” at another user an animated image with sound is played on top of the IM dialog box and then disappears into the background.

A new “photoswap” feature has also been built in, which allows users to swap photos and other media files with other users during a conversation. The latest twist on photo sharing, however, comes through integration with MSN Spaces integration, MSN’s blogging initiative that launched in December as an active Beta.

MSN Spaces service has now bumped up its photo storage capability from 10 MB up to 30 MB. Over 4.5 million blog spaces have been created since the introduction of the service, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft claims that over 2.5 billion instant messages currently traverse the MSN Messenger network every day. The service also boasts over 155 million users each month.

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