(IDG) -- Last week's war between instant-messaging vendors -- in which America Online refused to let its AOL Instant Messaging (AIM) system interoperate with those from Microsoft and Yahoo -- highlights two major facts: Vendor-independent standards are desperately needed in this area, and it is likely that IT organizations will be the losers in the short term.
Late last month, both Microsoft and Yahoo released new versions of their instant-messaging products, which included means for communicating with AIM users. In doing so, they were accessing users' AIM passwords, an action that AOL decided was a breach of security and a bad consumer practice; as a result, the company made moves to deny access to its network.
Microsoft sought to circumvent each of AOL's blockades, continuously posting new versions of the company's Microsoft Messenger. Additionally, several vendors, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek and Tribal Voice sent a letter to Steve Case, president and CEO of AOL, requesting a meeting to discuss an industry standard.
Despite its refusal to allow interoperability with Yahoo and Microsoft, AOL appeared to be making some concessions by partnering last week with Lotus and Apple. Lotus announced plans to release its Sametime conference software, which includes support for AIM. Meanwhile, Apple announced plans to create instant-messaging products that will allow communication with the AIM service.
Because instant messaging is primarily a consumer technology, most corporate users need not be immediately concerned. However, this may soon change.
"It may not be a hidden dominant force today, but over the next several years, real-time collaborative services are going to flood into corporate networks," said Eric Brown, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass.
However, some corporations are already on the instant-messaging bandwagon.
"The feature that drove us to AIM was the ability to communicate with people in other companies. We also liked the fact that it was totally free -- no software costs and no operational costs," said Rob Teichman, director of advanced Technology at British Oxygen, in Murray Hill, N.J.
As use of instant messaging spreads to corporations, the need for a standard appears even more urgent.
Currently, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is working on the Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol (IMPP), which should result in the interoperability of diverse instant-messaging networks. The IMPP working group is in the process this summer of hashing out the design goals for a standard, which is expected to be completed in two to four years, for instant messaging.
The group's scope includes authentication, message integrity, encryption, and access control.
Members include Microsoft, Lotus, Activerse, Tribal Voice, and InfoSeek; however, a glaring absence on the roster is AOL, which, to date, is not a participant.
Despite the lack of a standard and full cooperation of the players, vendors are forging ahead with corporate-focused instant-messaging applications.
At the enterprise application level, instant messaging is beginning to find its way into the feature sets of standard collaboration software such as Lotus Notes and, soon, Microsoft's Exchange client. Microsoft will target the corporate space with a product code-named Platinum, which will be based on the open and extensible RVP protocol, according to Sonu Aggarwal, program manager for the Exchange Instant Messaging product at Microsoft.
However, Brown said we should not look forward to these applications anytime soon.
"For the foreseeable several years, you'll just have the instant-messaging client, as opposed to a function within an application. It will take a while for that type of general-purpose widget to be used," Brown said.
Stephanie Sanborn contributed to this article.
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