AOL Launches AIM Pro Service

AOL looks to capture part of the enterprise market with free and premium versions of a new IM service that includes collaboration tools from WebEx.

AOL has launched its much-anticipated AIM Pro service—and the company is offering it for free with an eye toward capturing a bigger piece of the business market.

In the new instant messaging service, the company is offering its popular IM client software combined with WebEx Communications collaboration tools in order to appeal to a broad range of businesses and individuals.

Besides individual users who mainly use IM for keeping in touch with friends and family, the new AIM Pro is designed to grab a part of the business marketplace that has begun to rely more and more on this type of communication between employees, Brian Curry, vice president of Business Services at AOL, told eWEEK.

"At work, we are seeing growth areas for real-time collaboration and more and more companies are coming online with these services," Curry said. "Online meetings are a very large growth area in the market. AIM Pro is a way to reduce costs and boost productivity."

AOL, based in Dulles, Va., and WebEx, in Santa Clara, Calif., announced in February that the companies were developing an instant messaging and collaboration package aimed at professionals.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRead more here about the initial announcement of the AOL-WebEx collaboration.

Several analysts suggested that by partnering with WebEx, AOL is looking to attract an enterprise audience to go with the SMBs (small and midsize businesses) and individuals that already are using its IM.

Although "enterprise IM" was once considered a failure, business-oriented messaging systems have made a comeback in recent years as AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo and IBM are all making a push into the market.

Now, some 135 million workers at 85 percent of all North American companies use an IM system at work, according to research by the Radicati Group, of Palo Alto, Calif.

Michael Osterman of Osterman Research, based in Blue Diamond, Wash., said he has seen the beta version of the AIM Pro and was impressed with the product. He sees a growing market in enterprise for tools such as the AIM Pro.

Osterman also said teaming with WebEx should help AOL break into the enterprise market.

The launch of AIM Pro comes less than a week after Yahoo and Microsoft announced a limited public test of the interoperability of their two IM systems.

Matt Anderson, an analyst at Radicati, said that while the AIM Pro looks "good on paper," he felt that it would be a while before enterprises start using the IM system, even with the proven WebEx features.

AOLs Curry said the AIM Pro launch had been planned and was not a reaction to the July 12 Yahoo and Microsoft announcement. AOL can already interoperate with Apples iChat and will also be able to communicate with Google Talk within the coming year, Curry said.

In the not-so-distant future, Osterman predicted that all the various IMs will be able to communicate with each other, and these are the first steps in that direction.

In a demonstration, Curry showed the new AIM Pro features, which include a streamlined Buddy List feature and integration with Microsoft Outlook. The new IM tool also gives users access to WebExs voice and video conferencing and collaboration services.

For businesses, the new features include upgraded security features such as SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption and anti-virus file scanning.

Although the AIM Pro is being advertised as free, the company said it would offer a number of premium services. Those included compliance software to help with government regulations, multiparty video conferencing and a $14.95 monthly charge for unlimited, outbound, Web-based phone calling.

The free version of Aim Pro will allow one-on-one video conferencing as well as inbound phone calls.

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