A select group of testers next week will get an early look at MSN Messenger 7.0, the next version of Microsoft's popular instant messaging client.
The software will be made available to selected testers in the USA, UK, France, Spain, the Netherlands and South Korea in what Microsoft calls a "limited beta" test. Then, probably before the end of the year, a public beta version will be released, says Brooke Richardson, lead product manager for MSN at Microsoft.
MSN Messenger 7.0 will offer users a more personalised messaging experience, Richardson says.
Additionally, Microsoft will promote other MSN services, especially MSN Search, in the client and is testing transactional services that allow users to purchase additional 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 now send a sound animation, called a wink, or make the contact's Messenger window vibrate on screen, a nudge.
With MSN Messenger 7.0, Microsoft is also increasing the use of the user's display picture or icon. It will now appear not only in the messaging window but also on the alerts that pop up when a user signs on and at the top of the Messenger client.
Microsoft has also enhanced MSN Messenger to allow users to set their status before they sign on to the service. A user can select a status such as busy, on the phone, out to lunch, away, or "appear offline" when logging on.
While the beta version includes several new features, it does not have all the features Microsoft has planned for MSN Messenger 7.0, Richardson says.
"This beta is a taste of what will come, but it is not the full meal deal," she says.
The limited beta is a significant step in the release process for MSN Messenger, which has 135m active users per month. Microsoft hopes to release a final version of the software in the first quarter of 2005, after the public beta test, Richardson says.