Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is giving a sneak peek at the next version of Microsoft's instant messaging program.
The new Windows Live Messenger will add a number of features, including tabbed conversations, the ability to do video chats in HD quality, share Web sites, search results and other content types, as well as pulling in updates from other social networks.
"The new Messenger will provide a great way to have more meaningful conversations with the people you care about most while also bringing together your social networks and sharing updates, cutting through the clutter, and staying up to date with your favorite friends," Microsoft said in a statement.
Ballmer was set to show the preview on Wednesday as part of a speech on cloud computing at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
Microsoft is currently testing the new version internally with plans to release a beta version in the next couple of months and a final version before the end of the year. Although Microsoft isn't making the new software available yet, it posted a Web site with more details on the forthcoming product.
The new Messenger is another attempt by Microsoft to have an important social role, even if consumers are spending most of their time on networks run by others, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn.
In particular, Microsoft is forging closer ties with Facebook. "And of course, as part of our deeper integration with Facebook, later this year Messenger will support Facebook Chat, so you'll be able to IM all your Facebook friends from within Messenger," Microsoft said in a blog posting.
The new Windows Live Messenger will also be able to send Facebook messages to other users from within the IM program and will allow users to update their status in that program and have that carry over into other social networks. Users will also be able to prioritize "favorite" friends and see updates from those people more prominently. Also, Microsoft confirmed it is working on a version of Messenger for the iPhone.
The update to Messenger is part of a series of updates Microsoft is making in the coming months as part of "Wave 4" of its Windows Live services.
Microsoft also said it will have three different privacy settings for the new Messenger, with the default option not exposing any personal data publicly. "Consumers will be able to see exactly what they're sharing with a specific person and what personal information, photos, docs, and other content they have access to."
The company also threw out another stat I found interesting: "By the end of 2010, over 75 percent of PCs shipped will come with Windows Live," it said.
This is a big issue for Microsoft, since it stripped its e-mail, photo sharing, and instant messaging programs out of Windows over the last two releases, relying on either bundling deals with PC makers or downloads to get Windows Live into the hands of users.