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Voice-Enabled Instant Messenger

Voice-Enabled Instant Messenger

Editor: People with hearing loss often look to internet technology as the “great equalizer”. If you’re using email or a chat room, your hearing loss is not an issue. Or at least, it hasn’t been!

The internet is increasingly becoming voice-enabled. We’ve reported on several aspects of this situation in recent weeks. The current story is the release of a voice-enabled Instant Messenger from Microsoft. But the goal is much more involved. Microsoft and others foresee the eventual integration of phone and PC. Existing applications that allow users to place voice calls using their computers are just the beginning.

How will the growing importance of voice in internet technology affect people with hearing loss? Where exactly is this all going? For some ideas, read excerpts of the Microsoft press release below.


July 19, 2000, 9:00 p.m. PT

Microsoft tomorrow will release a voice-enabled version of its instant messenger, plugging a hole in its technology and leap-frogging rivals with new features, including PC-to-phone capabilities.

Dubbed MSN Messenger 3.0, the release plays catch-up to rivals that have long offered instant messaging voice service, including Yahoo and America Online. But Microsoft is going one step further, incorporating technology from Internet telephony provider Net2Phone to allow conversations between personal computers and telephones in addition to text messaging via pagers, fax and email.

The service also allows free long-distance calls over the Internet to the United States and Canada.

The deal is another win for Net2Phone, which is looking to differentiate itself from a slew of similar voice-over-Internet competitors by inking deals with top industry players. In March, Net2Phone received $1.4 billion in an investment round led by AT&T. AOL also owns a 5.4 percent stake in the company.

Net2Phone, along with other players such as MediaRing and DialPad, has built a relatively small but loyal following of people who use the services to make cheap calls using their computers. The services have been most attractive to international callers because the Internet companies can offer far lower prices than the still-high overseas rates. But as the quality of Net calls has gone up, more people have begun using them for national long-distance service as well.

By including PC-phone capabilities in MSN Messenger, Microsoft hopes to create a convenient service for accessing many communications devices. MSN Messenger gives people the option of including several contact points in their profiles including pager numbers, email addresses and phone numbers, thereby allowing their IM buddies alternate ways to get in touch when not everyone is online.