Eight major Web email companies, including Microsoft, have sent a letter to America Online (AOL) in a last ditch attempt to stop it from preventing its instant messaging users from communicating with non AOL customers.
The vendors claim they want AOL, which controls 75 per cent of the market, to embrace an open standards approach to instant messaging, which enables users to exchange messages in near realtime. Executives from Microsoft, Excite @Home, Infoseek, Yahoo, AT&T, Activerse, Tribal Voice and Prodigy, sent the letter in response to AOL's decision last week to block communication between its software and third party instant messaging clients. This includes Microsoft's newly launched MSN Messenger Service for users of its free Hotmail email service (see Newswire, 26 July, 1999).
They have given Steve Case, AOL's chief executive, until the end of next week to agree to open up the company's home grown AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ, which it inherited through its acquisition of Mirabilis, to third party clients.
It also has a week to embrace the Internet Engineering Taskforce's (IETF's) Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol standard.
The letter reads: "We ask that you suspend blocking users of non AOL clients from AIM and provide a means for these clients to talk to ICQ as well. We believe that this is the most practical and fair process for developing a standard."
But analysts believe that AOL's desire to keep its technologies proprietary will harm it in the end. Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group, said: "If AOL wanted to go in and fight to become a standard, it would win because standards bodies opt for technologies with the biggest market share. But if it does not offer the technologies to standards bodies, then the alternative will be that Microsoft will win."
Following AOL's deal with Apple earlier this week to develop instant messaging products for the Mac, a bulletin from analysts, Zona Research, added: "There is a war of several armies and the casualties are the users. Apple seems to be snubbing its nose at Microsoft by cuddling up to AOL. Microsoft has found itself in the unfamiliar position of calling for openness and fair play."
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