RealTime IT News

IM Wars Set to Re-Ignite?

Instant Messaging has already proliferated widely in the consumer market, and research group Gartner Inc. predicted Thursday that free IM services will worm their way into 70 percent of enterprises by 2003.

Microsoft Corp. appears to want a piece of that action. It has been gearing up to re-ignite the IM Wars of last year by bundling Windows Messenger with its new Windows XP operating system, set to hit the market on Oct. 25. On Thursday, the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker announced an update of Windows Messenger that will allow it to initiate PC-to-telephone and PC-to-PC voice calls -- something other free messengers, including Microsoft's existing MSN Messenger, can already do.

The upside to Microsoft in the IM game is somewhat nebulous -- the service is free -- but bundling the service with Windows XP is likely to make its Messenger much more competitive with the leading IM client, arch-rival AOL Time Warner's AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Additionally, Windows Messengers users need to sign up for a Microsoft Passport -- an important goal for Microsoft. Passport is the authentication engine for the company's .NET My Services Web services platform, and the company is seeking to build a critical mass of Passport users to make its .NET initiative viable.

Still, Microsoft's bundling of Windows Messenger with Windows XP is not likely to be a killing blow for AOL's AIM, according to Gartner.

"Because the future of the pay-as-you-go Internet is at stake, consumers and vendors should expect continued clashes between AOL and Microsoft," said David Smith, vice president and research director for Gartner. "The struggle will unfold on several battlefields and individual deals may be cut, but they would not have settled their differences. That could take many years."

However, there do appear to be a few immediate victors who are benefiting concretely -- at least from Microsoft's decision to add VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) capabilities to Windows Messenger. IP telephony service providers Callserve Corp., deltathree Inc., Dialpad Communications Inc., Net2Phone and Canada's TELUS Corp. have all agreed to enable the service for end-users. And that's a win for Cisco Systems Inc. , which will supply gear for a number of those companies.

Cisco will supply its AS5350, AS5400 and AS5850 universal gateways and Cisco 3660 multiservice access platform to power the service.

"Windows XP with Windows Messenger is enabling a new generation of personal communications services and today's PC-to-phone service provider news is a great illustration of how this new operating system also will stimulate new innovation and opportunity in the industry," said John Frederiksen, general manager of Windows XP at Microsoft. "Cisco's infrastructure products play an important role in supporting standards-based interoperability to make these new PC-to-phone service options available to users."

deltathree has already deployed a Cisco-based end-to-end SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) network to host the Microsoft application. Callserve, a European provider of commercial IP telephony, is rolling out a Cisco VoIP infrastructure. Dialpad, a global provider of VoIP solutions for carriers, businesses and consumers, with 14 million users, has cut a deal to deliver Microsoft's service by terminating on Genuity's Cisco Powered Network via Genuity's Global VoIP Direct service. TELUS, too, is using Cisco's gear to enable the service.

"This new Microsoft PC-to-Phone service will significantly drive the adoption of VoIP around the world," said Alistair Woodman, director of marketing, voice technology center at Cisco. "We are very pleased to be working closely with Microsoft to deliver the infrastructure that allows service providers to quickly and cost effectively deliver this new Internet phone service."

IM services, both text and voice, offer competitive advantages to enterprises that make effective use of them, according to Gartner. Properly managed and integrated into business workflows, IM has the potential to dramatically increase a company's ability to operate as a real-time enterprise.

But while the increasing popularity of IM within the enterprise can be turned to companies' advantage, Gartner warned that companies must take charge of the implementation or risk opening themselves to security risks.

Instant messaging services are being implemented rapidly by employees, but enterprises will be facing severe security risks, Gartner said Thursday, adding that free IM services will be found in 70 percent of enterprises by 2003 and they will be implemented by end-users without IT organization sanction or support.

"The rapid proliferation of IM use has resulted in individuals employing a vital communication medium without forethought," said David Smith, vice president and research director for Gartner. "E-mail followed a similar implementation pattern. it took more than 10 years before enterprises recognized and effectively addressed problems of security, reliability and business policy. Enterprises must pay proper attention to IM usage now, lest they repeat the painful lessons taught by e-mail."