A select group of testers will get an early look at Microsoft's instant messaging client MSN Messenger 7.0 next week.
The software will be made available to testers in the US, UK, France, Spain, the Netherlands and South Korea in a "limited beta" test. Brooke Richardson, lead product manager for MSN at Microsoft, said a public beta would be released later, probably before the end of the year.
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Messenger 7.0 will offer users more personalised messaging. Microsoft is promoting other MSN services, especially MSN Search, in the client and testing transactional services that let users purchase extra features such as special emoticons - the smiley faces and other icons that indicate emotions.
New features include ways to grab a contact's attention, dubbed "winks" and "nudges". Users can send a sound animation, called a wink, or make the contact's Messenger window vibrate on screen: a nudge.
The user's display picture or icon will also appear on the alerts that pop up when a user signs on and at the top of the Messenger client as well as in the messaging window.
Messenger 7.0 will also let allow users set their status before signing on to the service. Statuses include busy, on the phone, out to lunch, away or "appear offline".
MSN lead product manager Brooke Richardson said that although the beta included several new features, it did not have everyhting Microsoft planned for Messenger 7.0. "This beta is a taste of what will come, but it is not the full meal deal."
The limited beta is a big step in the release process for MSN Messenger, which has 135 million active users per month. Microsoft hopes to release a final version in the first quarter of 2005, after the public beta test.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service