AOL launches AIM 5.5 with streaming video

AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) users can now challenge buddies to an online game and, as the competition heats up, exchange trash talk via a live video feed, thanks to an AIM software upgrade released by America Online Thursday.

Version 5.5 of AIM for the first time lets users conduct live video streaming conversations using their AIM connection, provided they have a Web cam, a microphone and a PC running the Windows XP operating system, said Jamie Odell, director of AOL's instant messaging product marketing.

This feature is compatible with Apple Computer's iChat AV 2.1 instant messaging service, which means AIM Windows PC users will be able to establish live video streaming conversations with iChat Macintosh users. iChat and AIM users already had the ability to exchange text instant messages. The iChat service is hosted on the AIM network, so the link between the two doesn't require an external network bridge.

Adding this video streaming feature and extending it to Macintosh users makes this "a fairly significant AIM upgrade," said Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, which focuses on the messaging market.

The new AIM software also comes with a button for launching online games and inviting buddies to play, Odell said. If the buddy accepts the challenge, the game launches in a separate window in the gamers' computers. Currently, eight games are available, but the list will continue to grow, Odell said. "It's a natural extension of the social interaction you get with instant messaging," he said. The games are provided through a partnership with publisher Wild Tangent.

This games feature isn't earth-shaking but important to have nonetheless because it serves as a magnet for drawing users to the service, Osterman said. "If all your friends are playing games on AIM, then that's an incentive for you to sign up for AIM," he said.

Finally, AIM 5.5 lets users with mutiple screen names log onto the AIM network once and have all or some of their screen names appear online simultaneously. Previous versions of the software allowed users to log on with only one screen name, Odell said. If a user wanted to switch to another screen name, he had to log off and log back on under the other name, he said.

This is useful for people who, say, have an AIM screen name for work matters and another one for personal interactions, said Osterman. Providing that convenience to users is important, he added.

AIM 5.5 can be downloaded for free from http://www.aim.com.

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