Google, Skype Race Toward Next IM Frontier

News Analysis: Enterprise instant messaging may be the future of the field, judging by upcoming projects from major vendors.

This week may well be the pivotal point in the emergence of instant messaging as a tool for the enterprise, as well as for consumers, according to experts.

Instant messaging plans were unveiled this week by Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Luxembourg-based Skype Technologies S.A, joining the IM offerings of Yahoo Inc. and other leading computer industry players.

There are believed to be 1 billion instant messaging users today, worldwide.

And, though nearly 90 percent of corporations have PC users who utilize IM, only 12 percent today have a corporate IM policy and an IM platform selected by IT, rather than by individual users, according to research by Omnipod Inc., a New York-based IM software developer.

"There are a staggering amount of accounts in the enterprise," Gideon Stein, chief executive officer of Omnipod, told Ziff Davis Internet.

"Young people are coming into the workforce, and this is the way they communicate. These announcements are going to create an opportunity for IM to really make it in the corporate enterprise."

Thats because, right now, the IM space is somewhat akin to what the Internet itself was about 10 years ago. "Its the Wild West," said Mike Neumeier, a spokesperson for Atlanta-based Web hosting firm Interland Inc., in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet. "It has a legitimate place inside the enterprise."

/zimages/3/28571.gifGoogle launches an IM service with VOIP capability. Read more here.

A key feature of the new wave of IM offerings is that voice may be a component.

Google Talk is said to go beyond text-based instant messaging, enabling users to employ a PC keyboard to hold voice conversations with other computer users.

Microsofts MSN Messenger 7.5 offers a number of back-end improvements to boost performance, but now also allows for the exchange of audio clips of up to 15 seconds.

The real killer audio app, though, is said to be coming from Skype.

Skype currently offers free phone calls to anyone with an Internet connection, and is opening up its platform to anyone who wants to integrate Skypes presence and instant messaging services into a Web site or application.

The company said that opening up the platform to the Web makes it possible for any computer user to routinely connect to Skypes fast-growing member base, which has reached more than 51 million people during the last two years.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about Yahoos attempt to target Skype customers in the "voice over IM" space.

"People love to talk, and voice is fast becoming the key category for global Internet communications," said Niklas Zennstrom, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Skype.

Next Page: IM as the "new telephone."