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AOL Fends Off AT&T's Instant Message Breach

AT&T Corp.'s WorldNet Internet service reignited the battle over access to America Online Inc.'s Instant Messaging services this week.

Instant messaging market leader America Online (AOL) thwarted similar attempts to share their 80 million strong IM customer base with Microsoft Corp. earlier this year.

WorldNet had planned to let its 1.8 million subscribers send instant messages to users of AOL's proprietary instant messaging service.

Currently, there is no Internet standard for sending and receiving instant messages. AOL resells their proprietary system as a co-branded IM service to their AIM partners. Industry leaders have called upon the Internet Engineering Task Force to develop an Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol, but no common criteria have been developed to date.

With no open standard in place, AOL has continued to forge lucrative IM deals with MindSpring Enterprises (MSPG) and the EarthLink Network (ELNK), Lycos Inc. (LCOS), IBM Corp.'s (IBM) Lotus Development Corp., RealNetworks (RNWK) and Apple Computer Inc.'s (AAPL).

AT&T (T) said its new program would allow users to interact with both AOL's AIM program and Microsoft's (MSFT) messaging software.

Ed Chatlos, AT&T WorldNet Service vice president, said the company was shocked by AOL's actions.

"The Internet should allow open, easy and instant online communication among everyone," Chatlos said. "The Internet is no place for artificial communications boundaries."

CMGI (CMGI) majority-owned Tribal Voice Inc. eveloped AT&T's instant messaging program using an open specification AOL published on the Web.

Tribal Voice continues to build upon the success of their PowWow messaging application by forging partnerships with AltaVista and FreeServe PLC (FREEV), one of America Online's primary rivals for dial up service in the United Kingdom.

Microsoft cooperated with Tribal Voice to develop interoperable features with PowWow, but Richard H. Dym, Trival Voice vice president of marketing, said AOL failed to contact the company.

"Interoperability commoditizes the marketplace," Dym said. "Just like, phone services, it should not matter what company you use, you should still be able to select from the same features no matter where you are or who you use to get online."

Dym said that much like establishing STMP and POP protocols for standardizing e-mail, the IETF must work to establish IM protocols.

"It will take IETF a year to agree to a protocol and as many asth



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