I have finally managed to get my hands on an invite for the new MSN Messenger 8.0 beta. It's being included as part of the new Windows Live brand of products, along with Mail Beta (formerly Kahuna), an AJAX webmail program that can rival Outlook in some areas (such as usability).
At first glance, the UI has changed quite strikingly in appearance:
When you look closely, however, there aren't that many obvious new features, although for those of you who don't like orange, there is an option to change the colour of that header. The real additions to the features come. There is the ability to send offline instant messages that appear when the recipient signs onto their account. There are also 'shared folders' which, as the name suggests, you can put files in and then anyone who can access you can see your files while you're online.
MSN are also going into competition with SkypeOut, Skype's service to allow you to call normal phones from a computer, by providing a very similar service. Apart from the much slicker user interface, those are about all the extra features coming with this version.
In conclusion, I don't think it quite lives up to all the hype, but it's definitely a good product with some welcome features, and it looks set to secure MSN's place in the future of IM for at least a little longer.
PS: I don't have any invites at the moment, but I'll probably get given some soon, so comment below to get them. I'll just go down the list, emailing them.