MS launches instant messaging service

Microsoft has launched an MSN-branded real-time, online messaging service.

The MSN (Microsoft Network) Messenger Service allows users to download the free software and exchange instant text messages with anyone owning an MSN Hotmail account and with users of rival service AOL Instant Messenger from America Online (AOL). According to Microsoft, there are about 40 million Hotmail account holders today.

Microsoft is entering a market dominated by AOL, with the latter claiming 38 million users for its ICQ real-time messaging service and a further 25 million users of its AOL Instant Messenger service.

AOL reportedly isn't happy with Microsoft's decision to connect its application with AOL Instant Messenger. According to a statement published in the Los Angeles Times newspaper, an AOL spokeswoman warned Microsoft that unauthorised access to AOL users could be "akin to hacking".

MSN Messenger Service is integrated with other Microsoft products, including the company's Internet Explorer 5 browser, Outlook Express 5, Hotmail and NetMeeting, Microsoft said. With Outlook Express, for instance, users can initiate chats directly from their e-mail application, and send e-mail to other MSN Messenger Service users who are online. NetMeeting, often used in conjunction with other chat applications, can be used to add voice or video to the chats.

MSN Messenger can be downloaded at http://messenger.msn.com

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