Some people collect stamps. Others collect coins. I collect VoIP softphones.
In that vein, I had to be one of the first to try the VoIP services bundled into Windows Live Messenger, which was released yesterday.
Delivered via a partnership with Verizon, this service lets you make outbound calls to pretty much any phone in the world. Charges for North American calling, as well as calls to the U.K., France, Germany, and several other nations for 1.9 cents a minute. As with SkypeOut, you buy credits in advance. Available call credit packages are $5, $10 and $25, all of which you can charge to your credit card.
Once enabled, I performed test calls to two other numbers- one local, one not, and both sounded crystal clear. The interface is clear, not cramped, additional information and recent call history is displayed rather than you having to retrieve it yourself in a separate window. There's also a volume adjustment slider that comes in handy if your connection is a bit shaky or your headset acts like headsets do. That would mean cut out or the built-in microphone decides to slide down a bit away from your mouth.
Windows Live Messenger's only major user experience drawback is that you cannot receive incoming calls. I suspect that shortcoming won't last for long.
If and when that feature is enabled, look for Windows Live Messenger to be a full-fledged competitor to Skype. And given Microsoft's promotional ability via bundling, yet another reason for free-standing competitors such as Vonage to be worried. Very worried.