Instant messaging camps still divided

Trio of conflicting interoperability initiatives causing even further delays in choosing a standard.

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The road to standards and interoperability within the instant messaging industry has been long, winding and bumpy. And now it appears that road may never end.

Where once a single standard was in development, now several separate and sometimes conflicting interoperability initiatives are fighting for attention.

This lack of cohesion was on display last week here at the Presence and Instant Messaging Forum. Representatives from the two main standards projects—the Internet Engineering Task Forces Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol working group and IMUnified—watched as yet another group, called the Presence and Availability Management Forum, announced its formation.

The PAM Forum is working to establish a common API that would enable IM providers and others developing presence-based applications to make their products compatible.

To add to the confusion, the IMPP working group itself is considering three separate proposals: IMXP (Instant Messaging Extensible Protocol); Presence and Instant Messaging; and the Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extension, dubbed SIMPLE. The IMPP group has decided not to select any of them as a final protocol. Instead, the proponents of each protocol will form separate groups and work to integrate their proposals. All of which means that IM users have little hope of seeing interoperability with other services in the near future.

Three major IM providers, Yahoo Inc., Odigo Inc. and Microsoft Corp., have grown frustrated with the standards process and have taken it upon themselves to provide interoperability. The companies soon will announce that their three IM services will be compatible by the end of the year.

The trios partnership came out of the IMUnified effort, which sprang up in July in response to the lack of results produced by the IMPP group. The groups goal is not to replace the IMPP working group but to provide a kind of intermediate measure until an industry standard is developed.

Still, critics say IMUnified may be rushing its specifications out the door. "IMUnified said it was going to publish its specs by the end of the year, and it hasnt done so, and maybe were lucky that it hasnt," said David Crocker, a principal with Brandenburg Consulting Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif. Crocker is one of the architects of the IMXP protocol under consideration by the IMPP working group.

The IMPP group will present its work at the IETF meeting next week in San Diego. The three protocol groups will meet separately, after which parties will try to work together on melding their various proposals into a single standard.