AOL/Time Warner merger refuels messaging battle

www.infoworld.com |  Software

THE PENDING MERGER of America Online and Time Warner has rekindled the IM (instant messaging) battles from last year, again drawing ire from AOL competitors who charge that the company is hindering standards development.

The rancor began last year when AOL blocked competing IM applications from connecting to its AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM, software. Microsoft's MSN Messenger, iCast's iCaster, and Tribal Voice's PowWow all were locked out of connecting with AIM.

The planned merger between AOL and Time Warner, which still must receive regulatory approval, has renewed criticism and efforts by competitors of Dulles, Va.-based AOL to bring the standards debate to the fore. Critics have blasted AOL for thwarting progress toward an IMMP (Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol), which has been in development by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for two years. The IETF has set a June 15 deadline for IMPP proposals.

"If AOL is behaving like a bully now as far as instant messaging [is concerned], it seems implausible that they will behave differently [after the merger]," Margaret Heffernan, chief executive officer of iCast, said in a telephone interview.

Telephone calls requesting an interview with an AOL official for this article were not returned. When the dispute emerged last year and became particularly heated between AOL and Microsoft, AOL officials were insistent that the company was doing nothing other than protecting its users because Microsoft's software accessed AOL servers and subscriber passwords.

"The common goal here is to arrive at a standard for instant messaging," AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose said at the time. "But we are not going to allow Microsoft to hack into our instant messaging servers."

AOL also announced agreements allowing AIM and software from IBM's Lotus Development and Novell to interoperate. The company further said it was working with Novell, RealNetworks, Sun Microsystems, and Apple Computer on standards. Both AOL and Microsoft have submitted technical information to the IETF regarding an instant messaging standard.

Critics contend that AOL is more concerned about market share than about open standards and that is why the company is blocking efforts in that direction. Throughout the debate, AOL officials have been steadfast in arguing that their main intent behind blocking access to rival IM software is to protect their users.

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