The Windows Live Messenger, previously available by invitation only (sort of), is open to the public starting at 9 pm PST tonight (Monday). It is available for Windows PCs only, must be downloaded with IE (no Firefox), and is available at ideas.live.com.
Karin Muskopf, the product manager for MSN and Windows Live Messenger, gave me a brief overview of the new features earlier today. Live Messenger has a cleaner interface than MSN Messenger 7.5, the current non-beta release. Other improvements include integration with MSN video in the bottom of the window, and expansion of the VOIP pre-paid calling feature called Windows Live Call (powered by Verizon) into eight new markets (Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands). You can also make some changes to the Live Messenger template, such as color customization. In addition, they are rolling out offline messaging so, like Yahoo and Skype IM, you can send a message to someone offline and they will receive it when they log in.
The feature that I like best about Live Messenger, though is the file sharing via integration with the previously acquired Foldershare product. Drag any kind of file into a contact name in the Live Messenger, and a folder will be created on each of your desktops with a copy of the file. Any changes to the file will be replicated in both folders. I use Skype for file transfers often, and the Live Messenger integration is quite a bit simpler and easier to use.
No word from the Live team as to when they’ll be rolling out APIs for the product, or even integrating it into their own Live.com, as Gtalk is integrated into the Gmail site. But anyone can now try Live Messenger, and new features are, I’m sure, on the way.