We like Windows Live Messenger's Sharing Folders feature, which sets it apart from competitors by allowing you to transfer files to and from your buddy's computer by displaying a mirror of each others' files on your desktops. With security precautions in mind, Microsoft includes a free file scanner to check Sharing Folders for viruses and other potential threats. You can drag and drop all kinds of files into the chat window, which synchronizes with the mirror window viewed by your buddy, and view a log of activity. Another welcome change is Windows Live Messenger's ability to store up to 600 contacts, integrated with those from your Windows Live Mail beta account. Windows Live Contacts will notify you when a contact updates his or her details.
With a Webcam installed, you can make video chats with a full 640x480-pixel screen. You can use any Webcam or pick a Microsoft LifeCam with controls tailored to Windows Live Messenger. We found the image quality to be better than that of other IM clients, though we still suffered an image and audio lag of a second or two. With a headset you can talk to Windows Live Messenger buddies via voice for free or pay to call any telephone number through Messenger's Internet phone calls through Verizon Web Calling. If you plan to rely on Messenger as a Net phone, you can also buy a compatible headset to sign in and out without using your PC. Windows Live Messenger costs 1.9 cents per minute for U.S. calls and up to a dollar to reach numbers abroad. These rates are comparable to Yahoo Messenger's, but the inability to accept inbound calls limits Windows Live's usefulness.
Microsoft provides FAQs and a searchable and detailed online knowledge base. You can ask additional questions via a Web-based e-mail form.
Although Yahoo Messenger with Voice and other VoIP tools offer more options for phone service, only Windows Live Messenger sets up a secure environment for sharing and synchronizing all kinds of files. While Messenger may not serve as the ultimate communications hub, it's a solid, fun multimedia chatting tool and an improvement over the earlier version.
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