Yesterday, Microsoft released a public preview of MSN Messenger 6, the company's upcoming Real-Time Communications (RTC) client for Windows. MSN Messenger 6 is dramatically improved over earlier versions with text, audio, and video-based Instant Messaging (IM) capabilities; a new, fully customizable UI; file-sharing features; and Web camera compatibility. Microsoft describes MSN Messenger 6 as "the end of the era of 'vanilla' instant messaging."

   "MSN Messenger 6 lets everyone create their own digital personality and play in a virtual playground with friends from around the block or around the world," said Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president for MSN. "Consumers told us they wanted a place to gather and have fun online, and we've delivered a hallmark example of MSN's commitment to delivering the best communication services for consumers worldwide."<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

   MSN Messenger 6 lets users express themselves in ways that weren't possible in earlier MSN Messenger versions. For example, the product includes 30 new emoticons, many of which are animated, and lets users create their own emoticons. Users can also choose individualized background images for their chat windows; use large, high-resolution photos to represent themselves to contacts while online; and log their chat sessions for future reference. The MSN Messenger 6 preview is available now for free download from the Microsoft Web site.