MSN Messenger 6 looks for emotion

Is there an emoticon to express your sentiment at the unveiling of a new version of an instant messaging product?

If none pop to mind, check again. With the launch of the public preview of MSN Messenger version 6, Microsoft on Wednesday also introduced 30 new emoticons, including animated ones. Users can also turn any image file into an emoticon with the new MSN Messenger version. An icon expressing ecstasy -- or total indifference -- is bound to be available, or can be created.

If undecided, MSN Messenger 6 offers a "Decision Wheel" which users can spin online with a contact to make important decisions such as which emoticon, or which combination of the 150 supported fonts and 16 colors to use.

Emoticons, the wheel and font support are the start of a list of features new to MSN Messenger with the aim of making the program more personal. Users can also customize their client background and choose an icon to represent themselves to contacts, much like buddy icons in America Online's Instant Messenger.

"I think the personalization features are going to be the most exciting for consumer users. We know that people really want to make IM their own environment," Lisa Gurry, group product manager for Microsoft's MSN division said.

Also new to MSN Messenger in version 6 are integrated games to play with friends while online, improved webcam support and better file sharing capabilities. Users with a Web cam can now also send video to users with a Web cam and file sharing deals better with firewalls that had the tendency to block connections, Microsoft said.

A practical new feature is message logging, which gives users the ability to save conversations to the hard drive. This feature requires Internet Explorer 6, Microsoft said.

MSN Messenger 6 will be available for download starting at 6 p.m. GMT on Wednesday. Microsoft also created a site for sharing of backgrounds, homemade emoticons and display icons.

The final version of the software is due out in the third quarter. That version will be pushed to all MSN Messenger users as an update, Gurry said.

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