Microsoft is releasing an update to MSN Messenger that adds voice chat and will even let you place a call from the comfort of your PC.

MSN claims the service will allow its one million UK users to make long distance phone calls to the US and Canada for free, when it unveils its voice over IP additions later in the year.

MSN Messenger 3.0 is available for free download from the MSN web site. The free instant messaging software adds voice chat, file transfer, and the capability to sign up using any e-mail address.

Primarily, these features merely help MSN Messenger catch up with competitors like America Online's AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo Messenger, and ICQ. But MSN Messenger 3.0 takes voice a step further.

You can make free long distance calls or send a page to buddies who are offline.