WebEx Woos Enterprise with Speedy IM Service

The company is offering its WebEx AIM Pro Business Edition service as a free download that competes with Microsoft Office Communicator and IBM Lotus Sametime.

WebEx Communications has released the final version of an on-demand, Web-based instant messaging service that is specifically aimed at the enterprise market and as a challenge to Microsofts Office Communicator and IBM Lotus Sametime.

The service, called WebEx AIM Pro Business Edition, was introduced by the SAAS (software as a service) provider on Sept. 13. The company, based in Santa Clara, Calif., said it would offer the business edition free of charge.

In February 2006, WebEx and AOL announced that the two companies would begin working on new instant messaging and collaboration tools aimed at professionals.

On July 19, AOL announced that it would begin offering the AIM Pro service, which combines its IM software with WebExs communication tools. The new product was aimed at professionals and businesses more than at the traditional AIM user.

This latest announcement is a continuation of that partnership, David Knight, vice president of Messaging Products for WebEx, said in an interview with eWEEK.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read a sample RFP for Web conferencing applications.

The new business edition combines what Knight calls the familiarity of a commercial IM product with the security of an internal IM enterprise system.

"What we are looking for here is four key things," Knight said. "The first is a secure solution. The second is a system that can connect both inside the company and across different companies. The third is that businesses want a solution that integrates with calendars and e-mail. These businesses also want an easy and cost-effective IM solution."

The new AIM Pro Business secures IM traffic through 128-bit SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption and the company said the new service will allow enterprises to meet all government requirements for storing and retrieving IMs.

The service also comes with anti-virus protection, and the company said IT administrators can centrally manage accounts and configure URL and content filters to prevent an information or intellectual property loss.

In addition to IM, the new service will also offer businesses corporate calendars, address books, the ability to host and participate in Web conferences, and video and VOIP (voice over IP).

WebEx does not charge for the download: The company makes its money from selling the administrative capabilities.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about recent controversy at AOL over the privacy of users search data.

A business IT department will set the IM policy—such as whether employees can have non-work chats if information can only be sent through the company but not to outside—and WebEx will then integrate those priorities into the solution.

Unlike the Microsoft and IBM products, Knight said, the WebEx solution allows companies to talk to one another without having to first navigate through firewalls, which "takes the instant out of IM," Knight said. With the WebEx service, he said, "you have access to the AIM network and are able to access people through that network."

Once consider a dead end, the concept of enterprise IM has made a comeback in recent years, with companies like AOL, Microsoft and IBM all making a play for the market.

AOL and WebEx said they believe the market is there and cite a study by The Radicati Group, of Palo Alto, Calif., that estimates that some 135 million workers in businesses of all sizes use IM at work. That number is expected to reach 477 million in the next three years.

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