E-mail's past could point to future of instant messaging
Panelists at an IM conference predict standardization -- eventually
IDG News Service - To understand instant messaging today, users should look at the history of e-mail, panelists said yesterday at the Instant Messaging Planet Conference in Boston.
"IM is kind of like the way e-mail was 10 years ago, because we've got all these islands and a lack of interoperability," Kieran McCorry, a principal consultant in Hewlett-Packard Co.'s technology leadership group, said during a panel discussion about the importance of IM and e-mail.
At one time, some businesses used America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc. for their e-mail accounts, he said. However, using a public e-mail service that wasn't monitored by the company posed security problems, and compatibility was also an issue with early e-mail systems.
"Today, companies may have four different IM programs on their desktop, because one client uses AOL, the office uses an enterprise program and their spouse uses ICQ," McCorry said.
"IM parallels e-mail," echoed Bob Serr, chief technology officer at Chicago-based Parlano Inc., during a separate panel discussion about IM interoperability. When e-mail first appeared, businesses were concerned about security and other issues, and so they adopted products designed for enterprise use instead, he said.
The panelists suggested two ways to overcome the IM interoperability gap. One is for users to install multiple IM clients on their desktops, including the popular free IM programs and their company's enterprise product. Another is for IM providers to reach agreements among themselves that provide access to one another's user lists, for a fee if necessary.
A handful of products exist that allow users to communicate with multiple IM platforms, such as Cerulean Studios' Trillian client. But such products may not all meet corporate security and reliability requirements.
"Until there is an IM standard, there is going to be a heterogeneous environment," said Serr. "There are going to be cases where your business is running two IM programs. Eventually, people will run enterprise IM software."
Reuters Group PLC solved the problem of IM interoperability by signing agreements with AOL and Microsoft Corp. to share their IM client lists, said Peter Plaschka, an IT lead architect at Reuters. Reuters' program, which he said is offered only to financial services companies, allows Reuters users to display both Microsoft and AOL user names in their IM clients (see story).
"Businesses couldn't wait for consumer IM to be interoperable or for standards," Plaschka said. "There was a need to address the problem of four IM clients on one PC. A lot of companies have internal enterprise software, but they don't connect with outside users."
Some of the panelists said they believe that enterprise IM software, which
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