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InternetNews.com: Group Moves to Crack Instant Messaging Barriers

Jul 25, 2000, 17:00 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Patricia Fusco)

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By Patricia Fusco, InternetNews.com

Leading technology companies Tuesday launched a new coalition whose single mission in life is to resolve instant messaging interoperability standards.

Dubbed IMUnified, founding members include AT&T Corp., (NYSE:T) Excite@Home, (NASDAQ:ATHM) iCAST Corp., MSN Internet, Phone.com Inc., Prodigy Communications Corp., Tribal Voice and Yahoo! Inc.

The coalition's goal is to break through the barriers of creating a seamless instant messaging standard for all Internet service providers. The group intends to eradicate closed, proprietary instant messaging systems and replace it with a single operating standard to provide private and secure messaging systems.

Brian Park, Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) senior producer, took the opportunity to invite other firms to join the technology alliance.

"Internet users want to exchange instant messages with each other, regardless of which service they use," Park said. "We welcome the participation of other interested instant messaging companies who share the vision of interoperability based on open standards and encourage them to join our efforts."

Nearly every member of the group has accessed the instant messaging system of America Online Inc. over the past year. The companies played a technical game of dodge ball, gaining access to America Online's (NYSE:AOL) instant messaging servers, being blocked from access, circumventing the barriers, only to be permanently blocked from shared access again.

Each time a flare-up of what's been called the "Instant Messaging Wars" occurred, AOL made it clear the leading Internet access provider would not allow its members privacy to be compromised.

IMUnified intends to make publicly available by the end of August a set of specifications that will enable functional interoperability among its members' instant messaging services. Coalition members plan to implement the specifications as soon as possible.

IMUnified intends to be among the first to support protocols developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force in its efforts to create standards for instant messaging interoperability.

The IETF is scheduled to meet in Pittsburgh, PA for its 48th session July 30 through August 4 and the Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol is in the agenda.

Ross Bagully, Tribal Voice chief executive officer, said the formation of the group would create an open standard for instant messaging and would be a big win for the users of all instant messaging services.

"We are committed to supporting the creation of an open-standards solution based on the work going on at the IETF," Bagully said. "This announcement brings us one step closer to making open communication between all instant messaging services a reality."

Initially, IMUnified intends to build upon technologies already used by many coalition members to enable their Internet users to communicate freely with each other. Subsequently, IMUnified would focus its efforts on the implementation of deeper interoperability standards to rapidly incorporate the emerging specifications of the IETF standards, when set.

Yusuf Mehdi, MSN vice president, said the groups members would work together to enhance the privacy and security of an integrated instant messaging network.

"One of the things that makes this coalition so exciting is the opportunity to work together and learn from each other so that we can create a system that is even more private and more secure than what is available today," Mehdi said.

Instant messaging system integration and interoperability is a political hotbed because developing a single standard is the key to developing global unified messaging systems.

Marc Linden, Phone.com (NASDAQ:PHCM) group vice president of carrier applications, said developments in wireless services requires that tech companies cooperate to develop and open standard for instant messaging.

"Web-enabled wireless phones will put 'always-on' instant messaging in the pockets of hundreds of millions of new users around the world," Linden said. "We want to give each and every one of these new users the broadest amount of choice and flexibility when they seek to reach out and communicate with others."

Denver-based Jabber.com Inc., a subsidiary of Webb Interactive Services Inc., (NASDAQ:WEBB) is absent from the list of top tech firms that founded the alliance. Jabber.com is the only open source service provider that bases its systems on an XML-based instant messaging platform.

Last week Jabber participated in the Open Source Software Conference, where it announced that more than 5,000 Internet and applications service providers had adopted its Jabber.org open source server platform for instant messaging.

Just 10 weeks after the it first became available from the open source project, Jabber.com early adopters include major corporations, other open source projects, a wide variety of service providers, and notable dot-com companies.

Andre Durand, Jabber.com general manager, said the company believes that the instant messaging industry offers the same growth trajectory as e-mail witnessed in the mid-90s.

"A pattern that drove the growth to some approximately 1.3 million e-mail servers is being witnessed as enterprises demand flexibility and control over their instant messaging services," Durand said. "This creates a tremendous opportunity for Jabber.com to become the clear leader in enterprise instant messaging solutions."

Jabber's extensive instant messaging approach leverages the application as an ideal gateway to future uses that incorporate device, mobile and Internet Protocol telephony.

Jeremie Miller, Jabber open source project founder, said open source solutions could mend instant messaging woes.

"Since Jabber is a fellow project within the open source community, we believe it is important to meet with the leaders of other open source projects from around the world to pursue exciting new opportunities for Jabber integration," Miller said.

The Jabber project has been recently strengthened through a surge of new developer support. The developer network encompasses hundreds of software developers worldwide, making daily contributors to advances in more than a dozen sub-projects.

Some of the sub-projects include compatibility with the Linux open source programming.

AOL, the IMUnified group, and open source proponents are sure to clash at the IETF's forthcoming meeting. Though no open standard for instant messaging has been determined, two of the three groups will most likely walk away for the standard-setting agenda dissatisfied with the outcome of the IETF's efforts to establish an interoperable, secure and private standard for instant messaging.

Rob Enderle, Giga Information Group Inc. (NASDAQ:GIGX) analyst, said it really is in the best interest of all parties to come up with a set of standards because the market is significantly under developed.

"The thing is, if you are a company or a government agency and you were to develop a standard, the group creates a fairly strong argument that the standard should not be AOL," Enderle said. "A government body or a large corporation does not want to get cubby holed. The message is that AOL is going to create a cubbyhole to build a technology that locks you into a technology you may not be able to get out of."

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