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Microsoft Says Pay Up To Try Live Messenger Beta

People who want a look at the beta of Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger may have to pony up.

Although the beta test of Live Messenger, Microsoft's next generation MSN Messenger client, has been restricted to a limited number of pre-selected users, each tester is given a small number of beta invites so that they can entice friends and family to join them online.

Those invites are showing up on eBay, where bids run as high as $20. Thirty-four auctions for Live Messenger Invites were active as of mid-Wednesday.

The craze is reminiscent of the rush for Gmail invitations last year when Google rolled out its free Web-based e-mail service. But unlike Google, which banned invitation selling, Microsoft's actually encouraging the practice.

"Xbox 360 is not the only thing is short supply this holiday season," wrote a Live Messenger program manager on the team's blog. "So like Xbox, WL Messenger Beta invites are appearing on Ebay [sic]. If you must get an invite and you don&'t mind spending some money on it check out the auctions."

The group is even making bets on the highest price for an invite. "The Messenger team has a pool going to guess what the highest selling point will be," the program manager, identified only as "Nicole," crowed.

Live Messenger includes PC-to-phone voice calls (for a fee), and a new IM feature dubbed "Sharing Folders" that let users drop files onto contact names to create a copy on both PCs.

The beta runs only on Windows XP.

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