Microsoft unites Xbox, PC IM

Xbox 360 users will have access to the Windows Live Messenger service as of May 7

Microsoft Monday promised that within four weeks it will expand instant messaging on its Xbox 360 game console so that players can chat with others running Windows Live Messenger on their PCs and mobile phones.

A free update being made available the week of May 7 will give Xbox 360 users access to the Windows Live Messenger service, letting them chat with others running the instant messaging client on PCs and cell phones, and giving those people access to friends on Xboxes. Currently, Xbox owners can IM only other Xbox users through the Xbox Live network.

"Bringing the largest IM community in the world, Windows Live Messenger, to Xbox 360 makes sense, as Xbox Live has really become the largest social network on television," Jerry Johnson, product manager for the network, said in a statement.

Other additions planned for the May 7 update include new family settings; progressive downloads that let users fast-forward, rewind, pause or resume viewing a video as it downloads; and enhancements to the Arcade section of Xbox Live that shows what games friends are currently playing.

To support Live Messenger on the Xbox 360, Microsoft will also introduce a QWERTY-style keyboard add-on for the console's controller. The thumb-driven keyboard plugs into the controller's headphone/data jack and will reportedly come with its own headset. Neither a price nor a release date has been set, although Microsoft said the latter would be available "this summer."

Most Xbox 360 users who commented on blog postings by Larry Hryb, the Xbox Live director of programming, were enthusiastic about the IM expansion plans and the keyboard add-on. Price, however, may be the make-or-break factor for the latter. "I'll have to see what the price is first," said a user identified as Burty McGurty. "Seeing what the 120GB hard drive costs, I'm afraid to see what this keyboard is going to cost. If it's $30, sure. $60? No way."

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