Internet relay chat firm ICQ, a subsidiary of AOL, is releasing an upgraded version of its instant-messaging software.

Among the improvements in the new version are a contact list that is stored on ICQ's servers, rather than the user's PC, meaning it can be accessed from anywhere, a multilingual spell checker and the ability to detect and access firewall settings, making ICQ easier to use in a corporate environment.

In other words, those of you who have IT people telling you 'no more chatting' might have reprieve, albeit temporary.

The upgrade also includes enhanced capability to exchange messages with mobile phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and text pagers. More than 1.5 million messages are sent each day between ICQ and mobile phones enabled for SMS (short message service), ICQ said.

The new version, ICQ2001b, is available for download from the ICQ website.

ICQ was launched in 1996 by the Israel-based company Mirabilis, and acquired by AOL in 1998. The service now has 115 million registered subscribers, the company said.