Microsoft and telecommunications provider MCI today announced a multi-year partnership to offer software and services that will allow users to call from a PC to almost any phone in the world.

The move pits the two companies against rival Skype Technologies' SkypeOut service.

The Microsoft-MCI VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service, MCI Web Calling for Windows Live Call, will be available as part of the future Windows Live Messenger product, the companies said.

Like SkypeOut, users of the Microsoft-MCI service will pay a fee to make VoIP calls from their PC to phones. Users will have to sign up for a subscription to the service. Users will receive one free hour of calls and will pay rates starting from $.023 per minute to phones in the US, Canada, the UK and Western Europe during the beta testing period, the statement said.

Final rates for the service will be announced in 2006, it said.

MCI will handle customer registration, call termination, customer support and billing. Users will be able to purchase prepaid calling time from MCI in $5, $10 and $25 blocks.

The service is currently being offered as a "beta" with subscriptions currently available in the US. Microsoft and MCI expect to expand the PC-to-phone calling capabilities to include France, Germany, Spain and the UK in the coming weeks.