AOL developing workplace version of AIM

America Online Inc. is developing a version of its instant messaging (IM) service for workplace use, an attempt to give the consumer-oriented AIM the security, collaboration and IT management features businesses require, the Dulles, Virginia company plans to announce on Tuesday.

Developed with online meeting specialist WebEx Communications Inc., the new AIM Pro will become available in this year’s second quarter. Pricing details haven’t been finalized, but it will probably be offered on a per-user monthly subscription model, executives from AOL and WebEx said.

AIM, the most widely used IM service, is designed for personal use, but many workplaces have adopted it. This causes IT departments problems when they can’t manage, secure and log their users’ IM communications.

To address this issue, AOL partners with IM gateway providers, whose software gives IT departments some control over the medium. AOL also collaborated with Microsoft Corp. to make AIM compatible with Microsoft’s LCS enterprise IM platform. Similar support is in development for IBM Corp.’s Sametime enterprise IM platform.

However, with AIM Pro, AOL is moving into competition with IBM, Microsoft and other enterprise IM providers, the executives acknowledged. AIM Pro’s hosted, on-demand model will be an attractive alternative to the platform approach of IBM and Microsoft, which costs more and requires in-house installation and management of an IM server, they said.

AIM Pro will come in two editions. The Professional version is for individuals at work and small to mid-size businesses. The Enterprise version is for large organizations and comes with IT administration tools.

Both will link up with enterprise directory services and calendars, and let users launch conference calls, conduct online meetings, chat using video and VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol), and share desktops. Both will also encrypt sessions and provide auditing, logging and regulatory compliance features.

In mid-2004, AOL launched AIM Business Services, a suite that includes looser integration with WebEx called AIM Web Meetings and which lets users initiate an online meeting from their “buddy list.”

Shortly after launching AIM Business Services, AOL discontinued its IM gateway product, saying it didn’t want to be a software provider to enterprises, preferring instead to partner with gateway vendors, such as Akonix Systems Inc. and FaceTime Communications Inc. That decision is congruent with AIM Pro, which is a hosted, on-demand service, not packaged software, the executives said.

Like the consumer version, AIM Pro’s ability to interoperate with other IM services will be limited, because it’s based on a proprietary technology. Although AOL has linked AIM with some other services, it can’t interoperate with the other two large IM networks: Yahoo Inc.’s Messenger and Microsoft’s MSN Messenger. Yahoo and Microsoft are in the process of making their services interoperable.

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