In a coordinated move Apple and AOL US have released new software that lets users of both companies instant messaging tools video conference across networks and platforms.

Apple has released a public beta version of iChat AV 2.1, this supports video conferencing with others using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) 5.5 for Windows XP. "This means you now have immediate access to the millions of people in both the Mac and PC communities," Apple said.

"With the introduction of iChat AV in Mac OS X 'Panther' and the iSight camera, Apple revolutionized the way people communicate with each other over the Internet," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing. "Now iChat AV users can video conference with their AOL buddies around the world who use PCs."

AIM users can now conduct live video instant messaging conversations, link up and manage multiple AIM screen names from the same session, and invite their buddies to play online games through their instant messaging connection.

AOL Desktop Messaging senior vice president and general manager Ed Fish said: "With the increased popularity of instant messaging both for fun and for work, our focus is innovating so that AIM users have new advanced features that allow them to create more interactive instant messaging experiences.

"With enhanced new features including video conferencing with both AIM users and the large community of Apple's iChat AV users, AIM 5.5 offers additional tools to help stay in touch, be more productive and be more entertained."

AIM has over 50 million active users each month and AOL handles nearly two billion instant messages each day. The news also means AIM users on Windows should be able to use an iSight camera to cvapture and send video.

Adding this video streaming feature and extending it to Macintosh users makes this "a fairly significant AIM upgrade," says Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, which focuses on the messaging market.

The news emerges weeks before Jupiter Media's Microsoft-sponsored Instant Messaging Planet Expo March 3-4 in Boston.

System requirements for audio include: Mac OS X 10.3 or later; Any G3 processor; Built-in USB; iSight, or any microphone; 56K modem connection.

Video system requirements include: Mac OS X v10.3 or later; G5, G4, or G3 600Mhz or faster processor; Built-in USB; iSight or any FireWire based camera; Cable, DSL, or or other broadband Internet connection; iSight, or any microphone.

Once installed, users can revert to an earlier version of iChat AV by choosing "Revert to iChat AV 2.0" in the iChat AV application menu.