AOL Readies Own IM Alerts

In their ongoing quest to one up the other, America Online Time Warner is preparing to debut its answer to Microsoft Corp.'s .Net Alerts, aptly titled AOL Alerts.

In their ongoing quest to one up the other, America Online Time Warner is preparing to debut its answer to Microsoft Corp.s .Net Alerts, aptly titled AOL Alerts.

First announced as a "soon-to-be-launched" Web service for the release of AOL 7.0 last week, users of AOL Instant Messenger will also be able to receive notifications.

AOL has begun beta testing Alerts, and recent internal AIM builds viewed by BetaNews showcase the new feature.

AOL Alerts is a customizable notification service for news, sports, finance and weather. After selecting which alerts to receive, notifications are sent directly to the instant messaging client via an "AIM Alert" window.

For those who never want to be out of touch, the service will also deliver alerts to a cell phone, handheld or pager.

Both AOL and Microsoft continue to match instant messaging features tit for tat in an effort to draw users away from each other. Microsoft announced a preview of .Net Alerts on Oct. 9, calling it "the first user-centric Web service of its kind."

.Net Alerts come as part of the companys .Net My Services initiative, originally code-named HailStorm.

Updated versions of MSN Messenger and the XP-tailored Windows Messenger, featuring .Net Alerts, are due to debut this week, simultaneously with the launch of Windows XP.

AOL has never lagged far behind Microsoft, however. AOL 7.0 was released shortly after the unveiling of MSN 7, and stole much of the media thunder.

The battle will undoubtedly grow fiercer as Windows XP rears its head and AOL is forced to defend its crown. While the media giant presently boasts over four times the users of MSN, Messenger will now be tightly integrated into the operating system, with MSN Explorer installed by default.

AOL has publicly downplayed the threat, although internal AOL documents viewed by BetaNews demonstrate concern within the corporate ranks about falling behind the Redmond, Wash., company.

Microsoft has already garnered more Web services partners, including 20 for .Net Alerts alone. Among the names is eBay, which happens to run AOL banner ads on its Web site.

Perhaps its largest advantage, Microsoft seems to have developers in check. The .Net Alerts Developer Edition will be distributed at this weeks Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, enabling partners to eventually transition from .Net Alerts to full-blown .Net My Services support.

But AOL isnt likely to go without a fight. As first reported by BetaNews, AOL has recently begun rolling out a universal sign-in service -- code-named Magic Carpet -- to compete with Microsofts Passport. "Screen Name," as Magic Carpet is now known, will eventually power all AOL properties and currently works with Alerts.

AOL will also take on Sun Microsystems Inc. in the ID game. Sun, with some 30 Partners, is preparing what it calls the Liberty Alliance Project -– its own Java-based authorization system.

AOL is expected to release AIM 4.8 complete with AOL Alerts in the coming days, around the same time Messenger 4.5 is unveiled with Windows XP on Oct. 25.