Microsoft said it has joined forces with AT&T, [email protected], Yahoo and other partners to support instant messaging open standards, but America Online (AOL) remains at odds with the rest of the industry.
The recently formed coalition, called IMUnified, said it will publicly release a set of specifications by the end of next month that will link the networks of its members, allowing users of disparate services to send instant messages to one another.
But AOL, the dominant player in the instant messaging market, has not yet voiced its support for the effort and its users remain unable to interact with users of other messaging systems.
Brian Park, senior producer at Yahoo who oversees Yahoo Instant Messenger and a founding member of IMUnified, said: "Internet users want to exchange instant messages with each other, regardless of which service they use. It's been a struggle figuring out what's the fastest way to get interoperability."
Initially, IMUnified will build on technologies already used by its members to enable their internet users to communicate with each other. The group will then focus on further interoperability and incorporate the specifications of the Internet Engineering Task Force standards process.
IMUnified said the US is the main market for the service, but added that it also aims to provide a global open standard.
Last week MSN and 15 other companies including many of IMUnified's members accused AOL of showing no evidence that it is trying to come up with a solution to the problem. IMUnified founding members include Tribal Voice, iCast, Odigo, Phone.com and Prodigy, along with Microsoft's MSN Network, AT&T, [email protected] and Yahoo.
AOL, which has agreed to merge with media giant Time Warner, has a virtual stronghold on the instant messaging market. Rivals argue that the service provider, which according to estimates controls 90 per cent of the instant messaging market, has continued to block users of other services from communicating with its members.
AOL officials could not be reached for comment, but in the past the company has cited security and the privacy of its users and its system for its decision to block users of competing instant messaging services.
On Thursday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the US telecoms industry, will hold a hearing on this issue, as well as others, as it reviews the proposed merger between AOL and Time Warner. The FCC last month asked AOL for details about its instant messaging service.
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