Windows Live Messenger was touted as the next-generation of Microsoft's free MSN Messenger e-mail service and offered features such as internet telephony, group searching, instant messaging, and file and photo sharing.

Martin Taylor, corporate vice president of Windows Live and MSN, said: "Windows Live Messenger offers people the ability to see, talk and share with family and friends in such a seamless way that puts them in control."

"It's built to help people connect and share in all kinds of rich, unique ways," he added.

Windows Live Messenger was among more than 20 new services that the Redmond, Washington, based company has been readying for market for months, according to Taylor.

The innovations came as online titans Google, Yahoo and Microsoft fought doggedly for the loyalty of users whose visits translate into revenues in the forms of advertising dollars and premium services.

"Windows Live is a huge growth opportunity for Microsoft," Taylor said in a release.

"The online advertising opportunity will be a big growth driver for Microsoft in the coming years, as the market continues to expand."

Budget

Microsoft will commit approximately 1.1 billion dollars (US) of the company's overall 6.2 billion dollar research and development budget to Windows Live and MSN in the 2007 fiscal year that starts next month, Taylor indicated.

"For a fast-growing segment of consumers, logging into their instant message (IM) service is as much a part of their morning routine as pouring a cup of coffee or a bowl of cereal,"

Microsoft press statement

MSN Messenger, reportedly used by 240 million people worldwide, will remain "alive and well" with people having the option of upgrading at no cost to Windows Live Messenger, according to Microsoft.

"For a fast-growing segment of consumers, logging into their instant message (IM) service is as much a part of their morning routine as pouring a cup of coffee or a bowl of cereal," Microsoft said in a release.

"With today's launch of Microsoft Windows Live Messenger...the company aims to make this routine even more rewarding and versatile."

OneCare

Microsoft launched a computer security service, OneCare, earlier this year along with a US advertising platform designed as a one-stop shop for the company's online properties, including Windows Live and MSN.

"That's a huge milestone for us because advertising is the business model that will enable Microsoft to continue delivering Windows Live services and offering them to consumers at no cost," Taylor said.

"We've still got work to do but we're super excited about how far we've come."

Windows Live Messenger was described as a "main hub" that will exemplify the "look-and-feel" that will be shared by the rest of the Windows Live services, which were slated to be rolled out during the course of a year.

"What makes this effort so important to Microsoft and its customers is that online services, and communications in particular, are changing drastically," Taylor said.

"People don't think in terms of an online world and an offline world anymore; they think first and foremost about the relationships that matter most to them, and going online is a natural extension of their daily life."