America Online Inc has made its long-anticipated foray into enterprise-grade instant messaging, with the release of an AOL Instant Messenger enterprise server and developers’ kit, backed up by a support program.
The offering boosts AOL’s software division, comprised of its Strategic Business Solutions division and developers from the old iPlanet and Netscape, which will be supporting developers that choose to license the technology to build applications that use the AIM network as a presence backbone.
AIM Enterprise Gateway is the main deliverable announced yesterday. Already available, the product adds much-needed manageability to AIM services. Administrators can log, restrict, route and monitor IM message sessions and create period reports.
The server, based largely on technology from FaceTime Communications Inc, has an optional Private Domain Service with Federated Authentication, which allows users to be identified by screen names that resemble email addresses and are authenticated on the corporate directory.
The main lacking in the first release is security. Encryption is not possible in the current version of the client, though an encryption-enabled client, which uses software from VeriSign Inc, is currently under development and released as beta software.
An AOL spokesperson said a version of the client, to be released next year to consumers and enterprises alike, will come ready to work with encryption. But users will have to buy a digital certificate from VeriSign to make the feature function. Future versions of the Gateway product will also be cryptography-enabled, he said.
AOL also announced the AIM Developer Access Package and Certified Developer Program. Developers will be able to get their hands on a toolkit that allows them to build AIM presence information into their applications.
The company’s web site currently reads: Partner program license fees and royalties vary with the type and number of applications built as well as the complexity of development support and certification efforts required.
The AOL spokesperson said that the program will accept applications from interested developers and that only selected partners will be able to use the SDK. He said: We would have to make sure it makes sense to us as well as them.
So it’s bad news for AOL’s rivals, including Microsoft and Yahoo, which would love to get their hands on a way to allow their IM users to message AIM users. These two companies would be unlikely partners in the developer program.
Currently, the systems are only interoperable with iChat, the instant messaging system sold with latest versions of Apple Computer Inc’s operating system. Under a deal announced earlier this year, AOL is hosting the messaging network for iChat.
It’s the first significant development in the evolution of the AIM service in some time. Around since 1997, the service boasts 180 million registered users and leads the market, though its share is being eroded by more feature-rich offerings from Microsoft Corp and Yahoo! Inc, among others.
Increasingly, as the AIM service finds its way virally into the workplace, businesses are realizing how instant messaging and its presence technology can complement existing communication services, said AOL CEO Jon Miller,
With Enterprise AIM Services we’re providing organizations an instant messaging platform using a product that’s familiar and easy-to-use with the added management and control features they want, said Miller, estimating that AIM is already used in 60% of enterprises.
Extending the free public IM networks to enterprises, where the products can start making money, is a challenge the big three players have all adopted. Yahoo has starting shipping a beta of its enterprise system, and Microsoft is developing a real-time communications platform, codenamed Greenwich, to run on Windows .NET Server 2003.
Yahoo, for one, thinks that the adoption of enterprise-grade instant messaging will drive interoperability between the public IM services, a state of affairs that has been sought by AOL’s challengers for several years.