MSN Messenger Gets New Tools

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Microsoft is rolling out an update to its MSN Messenger instant messaging client that bundles in the MSN Toolbar browser add-on. The software giant is also introducing a subscription gaming service in the U.S. for MSN Messenger users.

The update, MSN Messenger 6.2, is the next version up from 6.1. It offers several minor improvements, including an autocorrect feature for emoticons, a connection troubleshooter, and changes in the contact list display to make it easier to identify contacts that are using a mobile device, a Microsoft spokesperson says.

But perhaps the biggest change is that Microsoft is bundling its MSN Toolbar with the Messenger update. During the installation of MSN Messenger 6.2, users will be asked if they want to install the toolbar, which is the default setting.

Surfing Shortcuts

The MSN Toolbar adds a bar with shortcuts to MSN Web sites and MSN Messenger to the user's Internet Explorer Web browser. It also blocks pop-up ads, offers search functionality, and a highlighting feature to make it easier to search Web pages. Google and Yahoo offer rival toolbars with similar functionality.

The MSN Toolbar has been downloaded over 1.2 million times since it was made available in January, according to Microsoft. Usage of the toolbar is likely to shoot up thanks to the bundling with MSN Messenger, which Microsoft says has more than 120 million unique users a month.

Although Microsoft has been criticized in the past for bundling products, this time it likely won't face any heat from customers, says Michael Gartenberg, a vice president and research director at Jupiter Research.

"As long they make it an option to install the toolbar, I think Microsoft is OK in the sense that they are not going to spark any wrath among users," he says. "Vendors will use all the tools at their disposal to get users to adopt their technologies." Microsoft is not alone. Yahoo also bundles its toolbar with the Yahoo Messenger, Gartenberg notes.

The Messenger update is gradually being made available on MSN sites around the world and should be widely available next week, the Microsoft spokesperson says.

Playing Games

For U.S. MSN Messenger users, Microsoft with the Messenger update is also introducing MSN Instant Games, a new subscription service that offers games that users can play against each other.

The service offers four games: Chess, Wheel of Fortune, Billiards, and Upwords. Chess costs $3.99 a month or $9.99 a year, while the other games cost $4.99 a month or $14.99 per year per game, Microsoft says.

The games can be accessed through the "Fun and Games" icon in MSN Messenger 6.2 or the "Site Launch" icon in Messenger 6.1, the Microsoft spokesperson says. MSN Instant Games, like MSN Messenger 6.2, is being made available gradually.

Microsoft currently has no plans in place to offer MSN Instant Gaming outside the U.S., the spokesperson says.

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