AOL, WebEx Build At-Work IM

The two companies have partnered to build a new communications and collaboration product aimed at people who use instant messaging applications in their jobs.

America Online and WebEx Communications have taken the wraps off of plans to launch a jointly developed instant messaging and collaboration package aimed specifically at professionals.

Tabbed with the project code name AIM Pro, the companies said the product would combine elements of AOLs ubiquitous IM client software with WebExs online collaboration tools.

The entirely Web-based application is expected to become available sometime during the second quarter of 2006 and will be targeted at both companies and individuals using IM independently in their jobs.

The companies said that the new package will link securely to companies enterprise directory services and allow users to chat and launch conference calls, online meetings and live demonstrations with anyone else with an AIM account.

AOL said that the IM client would retain many of the same features of its consumer platform but also include improved security settings and a slightly different user interface tailored toward business tasks.

The product, identified by the firms as an "on-demand service," will be made available in two editions, a professional version designed for individual professionals and small to midsize businesses, and an EIM (enterprise instant messaging) version that offers centralized administrative controls for larger corporations.

Once considered a failure under the umbrella of "enterprise IM," business-oriented messaging systems continue to gain momentum with IBM, Microsoft and Yahoo, among others, making an aggressive push to become the de facto providers for people incorporating IM applications into their work.

As late as mid-2004, IM market leaders AOL and Yahoo had both discontinued versions of their IM applications meant expressly for enterprise customers; however, the firms are again actively seeking business users today.

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Despite its spot as the top provider of IM software, with an estimated 53 million users, AOL is facing stiff competition in terms of reach from Microsoft and Yahoo, its two closest rivals.

In October 2005, the two companies began allowing users of their respective IM systems to communicate with each other, creating a combined customers base of roughly 49 people, based on statistics compiled by Nielsen NetRatings.

According to researchers at Radicati Group, IM has become an important collaboration tool for an estimated 135 million workers at 85 percent of all North American companies, with the firm predicting that some 477 million people will use the communications software in their jobs by 2009.

Analysts at IDC have reported that roughly 1 billion IMs are sent every day between 28 million enterprise users and projected that the enterprise IM software market will grow in value to $736 million by 2009.

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