Yahoo previews next version of IM client

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Yahoo last week launched a public beta of its newest instant messaging (IM) client, which touts new features and a tighter integration with other Yahoo services.

The bulk of the new features boost Yahoo Messenger perks that consumers love, such as customisable avatars -- animated characters that can be accessorised with clothing -- to put a face on the emoticons fed through IM.

Other new tools include additional emoticons, the graphical symbols that represent phrases such as "rolling on the floor laughing"; new theme backgrounds to the client; and a built-in query field for searching the web.

The Yahoo Messenger beta also ties in with other Yahoo services, ranging from the address book -- users can now send email to address book contacts from the IM client -- to LaunchCast, Yahoo's internet-based radio service. Yahoo Messenger users can now listen to web based radio stations from within the client.

Users can also make themselves invisible to specific "buddies," or IM contacts with a new feature that lets them specify exactly who can see their online status. Earlier editions of Yahoo Messenger only offered blanket invisibility, but this beta allows users to designate that some buddies see them online, while others -- the boss perhaps? -- don't.

The beta of Yahoo Messenger is available only for users of Windows 98 and later; it's offered free of charge and can be downloaded from the Yahoo website.

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