updated 10/26/2004 2:07:36 PM ET 2004-10-26T18:07:36

Microsoft Corp. plans a Dec. 1 release for the latest version of its server software that aims to give companies more secure instant messaging and other corporate communications tools.

The standard version of Microsoft's Live Communications Server 2005 will start at around $750, said Taylor Collyer, senior director of product management, about the same as the previous version. An enterprise edition, which can be coupled with other servers to allow for many more users, will start at $3,000. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

Businesses who buy the new software also will be able to pay extra for the option of sending and receiving messages from Yahoo Inc., AOL and Microsoft's instant messaging systems, regardless of which brand the user is running. That add-on should be available in the first half of 2005.

Currently, the companies don't allow users to send messages from one system to another, although it is possible with other instant messaging products, such as Trillian.

Besides corporate instant messaging, Live Communications Server aims to help companies more easily locate and communicate with employees, whether they are on the road or in the office.

With the new version, employees at one company also will be able to use these same corporate communications tools to stay in touch with people at other companies, such as suppliers or business partners.

Collyer said the new version will provide a simpler way for business users to connect to its instant messaging program without logging into the corporate network.

The communications server software is one of a number of products Microsoft is touting as a way to extend its popular Office suite of business software.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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