AOL teaching Instant Messenger to talk

Instant messaging addicts may soon have a new drug of choice -- voice-enabled IM

America Online latest beta version 3.5 of its Instant Messenger software features "AIM Talk," which lets users speak directly with the person they're IM-ing.

"We're always enhancing the IM product, so this is just a natural progression," explained AOL spokeswoman Anne Bentley.

To start an AIM Talk session, users click on a special icon located on the IM form or listed underneath their IM "Buddy List."

The feature requires a microphone and headset for proper use. For now, the beta AIM Talk feature is only available for Windows 95/98 and NT. Currently, the mute button and microphone volume level feature only work on NT.

AOL will not disclose how many people have downloaded the software since it became available last week, saying only that, "We want to try out the software as much as possible."'It's a test' AOL says the finalized version of AIM Talk will be available later this year, though there are no guarantees."It's conceivable it won't ever see the light of a public launch -- this is not a launch, it's a test," explained Bentley. "If it needs to be tweaked, or if it's not stable, we won't release it."