AOL Instant Messenger moved instant messaging interoperability a step forward Thursday by announcing that it will work in conjunction with four mid-tier business IM systems.
America Online Inc. launched a partner program with Antepo Inc., Jabber Inc., Omnipod Inc. and Parlano Inc., all of which sell enterprise software or services for presence and IM.
Through the program, AOL handles the translation and routing of IM traffic among the systems so that AIM users and users of each of the four enterprise systems can conduct IM sessions, share contacts and view presence information, the Dulles, Va., company announced. The federation does not extend to communicate among the enterprise IM systems.
“This is a fairly significant step because it starts to break down the barriers that exist with interoperability right now,” said Michael Osterman, founder of messaging and collaboration analysis firm Osterman Research Inc.
AIM is the most widely used IM client and service within enterprises, even though it is geared toward consumers and often not endorsed by corporate IT, Osterman said.
In March survey of enterprises, Osterman Research found that 62.6 percent were using AIM, followed closely by MSN and Yahoo.
The introduction of the AOL Enterprise Federation Partner program follows Microsoft Corp.s IM federation efforts for its Live Communications Server.
As of April 1, Microsoft plans to begin offering its previously announced public-IM interconnectivity option that will connect LCS 2005 with AIM, MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger.
The approach AOL is taking with the four enterprise IM partners is similar to AIMs connectivity with Microsofts IM server, said Brian Curry, AOLs vice president of premium and subscription services.
AOL manages a federation gateway in order to translate the various IM protocols used in the different services, such as SIP/SIMPLE, XMPP and AIMs proprietary protocol.
AOLs latest enterprise IM effort comes after speculation that the company was shying away from the enterprise market. Last year, it stopped selling an AOL-branded enterprise gateway server.
But Curry said AOL never intended to retreat from the enterprise market, rather was repositioning itself as a network provider that reaches corporate users through partnerships.
“We really see ourselves as a network service provider, and this is another way of making this network available to a constituency of users, namely, the enterprise users,” Curry said. “For us its about growing the size and utility of the network.”
Lotus and Reuters
One major IM enterprise system missing from the announcement is IBMs Lotus Instant Messaging (previously named Sametime).
In earlier versions of its IM client, Lotus had supported connectivity with AIM but dropped that support in later versions.
AOL in 2003 also began testing interconnectivity between AIM and Reuters PLCs enterprise messaging service.
With its latest IM federation program, AOL is receiving a yearly per-user royalty from the enterprise IM vendors, Curry said.
Those vendors, in turn, can either make the AIM connectivity a standard part of their offerings or charge an extra fee for the interoperability.
Antepo, of New York, plans to make the AIM federation available in its OPN (Open Presence Networks) system this summer without an additional charge.
Denver-based Jabber expects to offer a beta of AIM federation later this quarter for its Jabber XCP (Extensible Communication Platform) product.
A full launch is planned for June, and pricing will start at $20 per user per year, a spokesman said.
New York-based Omnipod, which sells the POD (Professional Online Desktop) hosted enterprise IM service, has begun adding parts of the interoperability but plans to offer full federation this summer as an additional service. Pricing has not been set, a spokesman said.
Parlano, of Chicago, is releasing the AIM connectivity in the third quarter as an option for its MindAlign product. It has not determined pricing.
For now, advanced features on AIM, such as video and audio chat, will not work in conjunction with the enterprise IM systems, Curry said. But the interconnectivity does also extend to AOLs ICQ service.
AOL is already examining ways to expand interoperability. For example, it is considering acting as a clearinghouse among enterprises, which may want to communicate directly with one another, Curry said.
The increased interoperability could lead to corporate IT departments taking a tougher stand on what IM services can be used within an enterprise, analysts say.
“Its no longer so much to ask users to get with program,” said Robert Mahowald, a program director at market researcher IDC.
Mahowald said that because enterprise users will be able to reach more people on the major networks, they will have fewer reasons not to use a system such as Jabber connected to AIM or a Microsoft LCS linked with the consumer networks.