Microsoft has added webcam functionality to MSN Messenger 5.0, allowing users to stream and view live video via instant messages.
Swiss firm Logitech is providing the add-in application and maintaining the connection service.
With the MSN software and a webcam, users will be able to stream video to contacts through many firewalls.
The deal will escalate the battle being waged among leading Microsoft, Yahoo! and America Online, which are scrambling to take control of the growing IM market. Yahoo! added a webcam service to its IM client last year, but AOL has yet to do so.
Bruce Friedricks, director of product marketing for Logitech's Video Business Unit, said that after Yahoo! had reported a quick uptake of its service, his company recognised that consumers would be enthusiastic about the integration of IM with webcams.
"Now we are excited about bringing this service to MSN Messenger's base of more than 75 million users," he added.
The video streams at "several frames per second", depending on whether users have dial-up or broadband internet connections, according to Friedricks.
Interestingly, Logitech camera users can also stream video to contacts on AOL Instant Messenger, provided they download the company's IM Video Companion application. However, Friedricks said users preferred an integrated environment, like the one his company is providing for MSN.
Logitech and Microsoft have worked together in the past, as Windows XP launched with Logitech camera drivers pre-installed.
"We are looking to continue to strengthen our relationship with Microsoft," Friedricks said. In that vein, the companies are planning further integration between MSN Messenger and the webcam functions.
Microsoft's is also rolling out a corporate instant messaging and collaboration suite, called Greenwich.
The new webcam add-in can be downloaded at http://messenger.msn.com/support/webcam.asp