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Microsoft To Let Xbox Gamers Play And IM At The Same Time

The new feature adds another communication option for people playing online games through Microsoft's Xbox Live service.

Microsoft on Monday said it plans to make it possible for Xbox 360 gamers to take a break from blasting bad guys and have a civil chat with friends and family over instant messaging.

Microsoft is scheduled to launch next month an Xbox version of its IM client called Windows Live Messenger. The software will make it possible for gamers to chat with others through the TV, whether the recipients are on an Xbox, PC, or mobile device.

The IM capabilities are scheduled to be included in the Xbox 360 Spring Update, which is set to ship May 7 at no charge. The new feature adds another communication option for people playing online games through Microsoft's Xbox Live service. Players can send e-mail, or hold voice and video chat sessions.

Through Windows Live Messenger, Xbox owners will be able to chat with up to six people on their contact list at one time while playing games, listening to music, or watching movies.

Video game console makers across the board are adding social networking features to build customer loyalty, and to try to expand the customer base. PlayStation 3 manufacturer Sony plans to launch this year a 3-D virtual world where PlayStation 3 enthusiasts can gather in their own customized apartments to play games, watch movies, and share personal pictures and video stored in the console's hard drive. Nintendo is moving forward with its Mii platform as a social networking hub that ties into its Wii game console.

Xbox Live has 6 million subscribers, according to Microsoft. "With this announcement we are simultaneously expanding the access of Xbox Live users to existing friends and family while introducing Windows Live Messenger users to the benefits of Xbox 360," Jerry Johnson, product unit manager for Xbox Live, said in a statement.

To use the new software, people can either use the virtual keyboard accessible through the console, or connect a USB keyboard. This summer, Microsoft plans to launch a keyboard-like device that will connect directly into the Xbox 360 controller.

In addition to the IM capabilities, the Xbox Spring Update is scheduled to include a number of other features, including an option in auto downloads for faster access to the entire collection of free, trial-version Xbox Live Arcade games. In addition, people downloading video from the Live Marketplace will be able to fast-forward, rewind, pause, and resume.

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