RealTime IT News

AOL Aims for the Masses with New IM Client

It has been nearly a year since AOL launched its next generation Triton AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) client.

In that time, however, AOL never actually advertised to its AIM 5.9 users directly in their AIM client that an upgrade was available. Instead, users had to go to AOL.com to get Triton.

That situation changes today with the release of AIM 6.0, which is being advertised to all AIM users.

AIM 6.0 builds on the Triton code base, which has also now been exposed via the Open AIM SDK.

New features in AIM 6.0 include conversation logging, offline messaging, a mobile dashboard, a buddy list that can support up to 1,000 buddies and a new away message center. Users can now also take advantage of a feature called AIM Buddy Updates which can be set to update based on new RSS feeds or content posted to popular social networking sites such as YouTube, Digg and Flickr.

The user interface has also been reworked from Triton.

Ann Santorios, director of product management for AIM, noted that AIM 6.0 builds on the feedback received from Triton and melds the Triton experience with that of legacy AIM 5.9 users.

Triton is currently used by approximately 30 percent of AIM users. The target for AIM 6.0 is for an even greater degree of usage, though Santorios cautioned that AOL will not force users to upgrade.

"We never sent notice out to AIM 5.9 users because it was such a different experience that we really wanted to test the waters first," Santorios told internetnews.com. "The user interface was so completely different."

Though built on the Open AIM SDK, AOL 6.0 will not have all of the same features as the enterprise-targeted AIM Pro offering, which debuted earlier this year.

In particular AIM 6.0 will not include SSL encryption for messaging. Though it's not currently in AIM 6.0, Santorios noted that AOL is definitely looking into supporting SSL down the road in the non-pro IM.

Since AIM Triton was released a year ago, the winds of change have blown across the public IM landscape with Microsoft's MSN Messenger (now rebranded as Window Live Messenger) and Yahoo! Messenger providing interoperability.

"We're closely watching what MSN and Yahoo! are doing, but for right now we're pretty comfortable with where we're headed," Santorios said.

AOL does offer enterprise federation for business users and, according to Santorios, AOL is also currently in discussion with Google to enable Google Talk and AIM users to chat with each.

The AOL 6.0 release is not intended as a blow-by-blow, line-by-line feature effort to unseat MSN or Yahoo! users either.

"Of course I have a chart in my file drawer," Santorios said when asked whether she compared AOL 6.0 to the latest IM products from Microsoft and Yahoo!.

"But really we're focused on our customers and what they want to do with our product," she said.