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AOL and Yahoo Sound Enterprise IM Retreat

Within days of each other, two of the three largest public instant messaging service providers announced that they'll be pulling back from enterprise IM.

Yahoo is dropping its Business Messenger IM Service and will focus on its free IM service, while America Online is pushing its AIM Enterprise Gateway server into end-of-life and regrouping around its control of its popular IM network.

Late last Friday, Yahoo issued a press release announcing that it is ceasing sales of its Business Manager IM Service. The company set no date for when it would end support of the offering. Today, IM gateway service provider and Yahoo partner Akonix Systems reminded corporate Yahoo Instant Messenger users that it offers services that cover several concerns enterprise IT managers have about IM management, including access management and usage monitoring. The company emphasized that it will continue to support Yahoo Business Messenger users.

Genelle Hung, communications director for the Radicati Group, said Yahoo's move was probably a wise one, considering the company's overwhelming emphasis on consumer services. While noting that the Yahoo client itself is a solid product, Hung went on to say that there's "no way" the entertainment-oriented software, with its emphasis on games and music, would be used "by any enterprise client with half a brain."

AOL's decision to end sales of its AIM Enterprise Gateway is less of a withdrawal from the enterprise IM space as it is a decision to pull back from the IM management business to focus on the less-risky opportunities offered by adding services and taking advantage of its control over its own network.

On June 10, the company announced a collection of enhancements to its IM network, including voice conferencing and browser-based Web meetings launched from AIM buddy lists. The voice conferencing service, offered in conjunction with Lightbridge, will cost about 15 cents per minute. The Web Meeting service, the result of a partnership with WebEx Communicatoins, will cost 33 cents per minute on weekdays, 15 cents per minute on weekends.

AOL also launched AIM Identity Services, which provides certificate-based identity management and leverages the company's control of its network namespace by selling "user@domain" style user identities to businesses interested in creating a more professional presence for their IM-using employees.

IMlogic, a competitor to Akonix in the IM gateway server market, today announced that it is partnering with AOL to offer migration services for customers who previously used the AIM Enterprise Gateway. The company's IM Manager product offers IM management and policy enforcement for enterprise IT managers. IMlogic also produces IM Linkage, an IM application system designed to allow enteprise IM users with a means to integrate IM presence with other applications, such as corporate intranet portals and trading applications.

Hung said AOL's move is reflective of a "small steps" approach in the broader IM market, which she described as still being in the "fumbling stages." According to Hung, both companies are acting on a recognition that they're "not technology leaders in the enterprise space."

Michael Hall is managing editor of CrossNodes.