Yahoo IM aims for center stage with broadband webcam

Anticipating a boom in broadband, Yahoo rolled out the latest version of its IM (instant messaging) software Thursday boasting added webcam support, offering users faster video streaming and higher resolution.

Yahoo Messenger 5.5 offers users the ability to communicate in real-time video of up to 20 frames per second, with two window sizes, and the ability to zoom. The small window size offers 160 pixel by 120 pixel resolution, and the large window offers 320 pixel by 240 pixel resolution.

With the new IM software, also dubbed Yahoo Messenger Super Webcam, the Sunnyvale, California, company also hopes to distinguish itself from IM rivals such as America Online Inc. (AOL) and Microsoft Corp., which have been slower to adopt interactive IM capabilities.

The company said that it has experienced rapid adoption of the original rollout of its Messenger Webcam software, introduced last June, which now claims over 6 million users.

In addition to enhancing webcam features, Yahoo is trying to distinguish its IM software with added personalization features, such as the ability to choose theme background environments to appear in the IM window.

In the latest version, Yahoo has added more IMVironment options, plus animated emoticons that allow users to express eye-rolling, raising an eyebrow, and applauding hands, among others.

But while Yahoo says that it has the fastest growing IM software, it is not the most popular. The top spot currently goes to AOL's AIM service, followed by MSN Messenger, with Yahoo in third, according to data from researcher Jupiter Media Metrix Inc.

It remains to be seen if Yahoo's new video features can give it a starring role on the IM stage.

Yahoo Messenger can be downloaded for free online at http://messenger.yahoo.com.

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