AOL launches IM for business users

AIM Pro PE includes security, conferencing features

AOL LLC launched a free instant messaging application for business users today. AIM Pro Professional Edition integrates with Microsoft Outlook corporate directories and calendars, encrypts messages and scans them for viruses, and offers quick access to business conferencing services from WebEx Communications Inc., the company said.

Around 14 million people already use AIM as a daily business tool, AOL said. With AIM Pro Professional Edition, the company hopes they will see its software as a tool not just for secure instant messaging, but also for secure file sharing or for hosting online meetings with voice, video and collaborative workspace tools.

Although there are already enterprise instant messaging tools on the market, such as IBM's Lotus Sametime, most business IM users make do with free tools intended for consumers, AOL said.

AOL faces renewed competition in the enterprise services market. Messaging rival Microsoft Corp. announced plans yesterday to link up with Nortel Networks Corp. to integrate instant messaging with traditional telecommunications and conferencing services.

AIM Pro PE is available as a free download. It replaces the basic AIM application and will automatically import contact lists and account information from previous versions, the company said.

Alongside the regular IM functionality, AIM Pro PE adds access to business conferencing services provided by WebEx, allowing users to join voice or video conferences from within the AIM interface. To create conferences and collaborative workspaces, though, AIM Pro users need to set up an account with WebEx, which charges from 33 cents per person per minute for the conference, according to that company's Web site. Basic IM communications remain free, AOL said.

As an alternative to the often obscure and quirky screen names that identify users of the consumer AIM service, AIM Pro PE users can also identify themselves using their business e-mail addresses. From within the AIM Pro interface, users can search corporate directories, check their Outlook calendars, send e-mail or instant messages to contacts listed in the directory or calendar, and access business information or enterprise podcasts, the company said.

AIM Pro PE users can communicate with more than 80 million users of IM services on AOL's network, including ICQ and Apple Computer Inc.'s iChat, the company said. AOL also has agreements that allow it to exchange traffic with users of Microsoft's Live Communications Server, IBM's Lotus Sametime and other IM services, including those of Jabber Inc., Antepo Inc. and Parlano Inc., it said.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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