RealTime IT News

AIM Taking The SIMPLE Approach...Slowly

AOL Time Warner reports it has developed the technology to marry its Instant Messaging (IM) service to other IM platforms from competitors like Yahoo! , Excite@Home and AT&T , but don't hold your breathe waiting for the update in the next version of AIM.

As one of the strictures spelled out in the conditional approval of the $125 billion merger of America Online, Inc., and Time Warner, Inc., by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this year, regulators expected the new company to give a status report 180 days after the merger was finalized.

True to their word, AOL Time Warner officials sent the report to the FCC Monday evening, but the timetable leaves no question that officials are in no hurry to open up the largest IM platform in the world.

With a technology platform in place, officials now say they will test the product internally for the next 14 months. At that point, it will invite one of its competitors into the fold to begin interoperability tests.

According to the report, AOL/TW is close to signing a contract with another "leading technology company" to conduct interoperability tests next year.

AOL/TW officials point to the many problems faced by the modifications necessary to make its current AIM platform compatible with others IM platforms.

The following are issues with a "virtual host" approach AIM technologists said hindered the AIM platform's immediate inclusion with other IM standards:

  • Server-to-server communications and the potential for unacceptable delays such a system poses.
  • Service outages by one IM provider will affect IM services for everyone.
  • Security issues caused by relying on other IM provider networks to provide adequate measures to protect member privacy and security.

To bypass the challenges caused by interoperability, AOL/TW reports it will use the framework proposed by the Internet Egineering Task Force last year. Ironically enough, it is one of the propositions the company scoffed at last year when it had proposed its own standard for interoperability.

The SIP for Instant Messaging and Presense Leverage (SIMPLE) standard, according to AOL/TW, is already accepted by many developers in the industry and supported by a number of hardware and software vendors.

The report takes a shot at the IETF, which rejected its own plan last year, saying the working group established by the Internet standards-setting body with the goal to work out the interoperability issue using the Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol (IMPP).

"Last summer, however, the IMPP working group abandoned that goal due to its inability to reach consensus support for any single, comprehensive protocol, and has instead limited its efforts to developing common messaging formats which other working groups, subsequently formed by the IETF, are implementing as they develop several different server-to-server interoperability protocols," the report stated.

But since SIMPLE has never gotten out the realm of the theoretical, AOL/TW officials had to finish it up with working solutions they say are necessary for IM interoperability to work. That includes making high-speed Internet connections the standard between IM networks, getting quality of service agreements and a standardized privacy and security approach.

Once these measures have been taken by competitors, then interoperability shouldn't be an issue, officials said. On the AIM end, a gateway will be established that translates the AIM platform to the SIMPLE protocol. Incoming messages will be handled the same way.

Officials at IMUnified, an association created by IM competitors in the wake of continued stall tactics by AOL to open up AIM, were not available for comment at press time, saying they were still reviewing the report. Officials at AT&T and Odigo said they would comment after reviewing all the material.

Members of the group are: AT&T, Excite@Home, Yahoo!, Odigo, MSN , Phone.com and Prodigy Communications Group .