This week, Microsoft will finally release MSN Messenger 6.2, the company's most recent Instant Messaging (IM) client, which adds online gaming interoperability and an optional installation of the MSN Toolbar for Internet Explorer. MSN Messenger currently has more than 120 million users, according to Microsoft.
Despite its minor version-number change (the earlier version was 6.1), MSN Messenger 6.2 contains two major updates. First, the product now integrates with Microsoft's online games through the new MSN Instant Games Clubhouse, which features access to familiar head-to-head game titles such as Wheel of Fortune, MSN Instant Games Chess, and Bankshot Billiards, as well as a game called UPWORDS. "The popularity of online gaming is booming, with nearly 50 million people already jumping on the Internet instead of pulling a boxed game from their closets when they want to play games," Blake Irving, corporate vice president of MSN Communication Services and Member Platform Group, said. "Gaming with MSN Instant Games combines the best of both worlds, bringing some of the most popular boxed games to life online while enabling people to connect with their friends--or rivals--in gameplay wherever they might be." MSN Instant Games Clubhouse is available only in the United States and isn't free: Subscribers must pay $4 to $5 a month for each new head-to-head game, Microsoft says, although the company also offers seven free games.
MSN Messenger 6.2 also includes an optional installation of the MSN Toolbar for Internet Explorer, which Microsoft says users have downloaded 1.2 million times since its release in January. The toolbar provides pop-up ad blocking and Web search functionality, as well as quick access to various MSN online services.
Small changes in MSN Messenger 6.2 include emoticon autocorrect functionality, a connection troubleshooter, and contact-list improvements related to mobile device users. Microsoft routinely makes changes of this kind with minor MSN Messenger upgrades.
Microsoft originally released MSN Messenger 6.2 Thursday but pulled it because of unnamed technical problems. The company will release the product again this week. "The 6.2 client is currently on hold," a Microsoft spokesperson told me.
Microsoft isn't the first company to integrate online games into its IM client. Last week, AOL's ICQ subsidiary released ICQ 4.0, which includes new games and other features. And Yahoo! is set to release a major IM version today called The All New Yahoo! Messenger, which will let users more easily tie into the company's online games service. The new Yahoo! client will also feature a completely reworked UI and integration with Yahoo! services such as photo sharing, Address Book, and LAUNCHcast Radio.