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AOL Opens IM Network

Want to build your own AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) client or plugin? You now have the support of AOL to do so. That is, unless you're planning on using it inside of a multi-instant messaging protocol client, in which case AOL does not approve.

AOL today is launching its Open AIM initiative, which includes SDKs that will enable developers to build their own AIM client and plugins for AOL's own Triton IM application.

The AIM SDK is based on the same toolkit that AOL itself uses for the recently launched Triton client and its also the SDK behind the upcoming AIM Pro client under joint development with WebEx. The AIM Pro version is expected to add calendar and corporate directory features and will also add WebEx's on demand voice, video and web collaboration features.

AIM's director of product management, Jamie Odell, explained that there are actually three parts to the Open AIM SDK initiative. AIM is providing a client SDK for third parties to built clients on the AIM network; a Triton plugin SDK for people to build plugins that add functionality to Triton client; and a Web Services component so third parties can add presence capability to their website.

Justin Uberti, chief architect for AIM, said the Open AIM initiative gives the entire developer community access to AIM's network, text, sms, voice and video capabilities. Third party applications will also be able to utilize existing user screen names and buddy list and can be secured using SSL  and digital certificates to ensure secure communication.

Open AIM is not just for C++ developers either.

"We're language agnostic where possible. That means for the SDK you'll be able to use C++, VisualBasic, C#, any dot net language or anything that has a COM binding," Uberti told internetnews.com. "That could conceivably mean Python or Perl or anything like that."

"Having your choice of language to be able to access the SDK, we think is going to be a big selling point," Uberti added. "We're not just reaching out to the C++ community. We're reaching out to basically any type of developer."

Among the developers that AOL is hoping to attract with Open AIM are open source developers. Although the SDKs themselves are not open source, Odell admitted that AOL "noodled" the idea internally, but at this point there are no plans to open source the Open AIM initiative.

Open source developers can, however, include AIM functionality within their applications, albeit with one important stipulation. One of the most popular open source projects on the SourceForge.net project repository remains the "multi-headed" Gaim client, which is currently led by a Google employee.

"We do have a restriction on multi-headed clients at this point," Odell said. "If you're going to build an IM client that connects to our network, it can't connect to another IM network."

AIM's Uberti added that AOL does want to encourage open source development of plugins for the client.

One of the goals of the Open AIM initiative is to help better position AIM in the increasingly competitive IM marketplace. While AIM is still the leader in North America in terms of user accounts, Microsoft , Yahoo and recently Google are all vying for a piece of the pie.

Uberti commented that AOL is looking at Open AIM from a strength of the network perspective.

"If we make AIM, the premier platform to develop on, that's going to draw more users to AIM," Uberti said. "If people are coming to AIM as opposed to some other IM network to build stuff, that's just going to enhance AIM's prestige and get more developers and more end users on the AIM network."

It all comes back to AOL positioning AIM and AOL as one of the premier Web 2.0 communities, he said.

The Open AIM SDKs are available at http://developer.aim.com. Enrollment in the program is free with usage of up to two million logins per month.