Plans for MSN Messenger were originally announced a year ago, with beta testing to begin August 1998. In the intervening months AOL's Instant Messenger user base has bulked up to about 25 million, more than the number of subscribers who pay to use AOL's main services. Still, as with all free Internet services, the numbers of active user accounts are undoubtedly inflated by the ease of registering. And despite these large audiences, no one has figured out how to make any money on the free chat service, except to note that the client program commands an outsized amount of attention from active users who leave it open on their computer screen alongside other activities. Right now users stare at the AOL (or MSN or Yahoo) brand name — presumably they can one day be persuaded to look at ads or shop online. MORE >>
Microsoft announced Thursday that it had reverse engineered one of America Online's prize programs, the AOL Instant Messenger, and included the ability to exchange real-time messages with AOL users in its new MSN Messenger. The free MSN service can even monitor whether AOL users are logged in, mimicking AOL's wildly popular Buddy List service.