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ActiveWin: Will there ever be a full interoperable Instant Messenger service?

Written By: Byron Hinson
Date: 27th September 2002
Sources: ActiveWin Content/Microsoft/Instant Messaging Planet

I guess that most us have a few friends who use different instant messenger programs than you do, such as ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, Aol’s AIM and MSN/Windows Messenger. There are a few features in each that help them differ from each other, ICQ for example has SMS messaging, e-mail, chat, voice, forums and just about anything else you can name. While some of the others try to just go with chat, web cams or e-mail.

"We know that Microsoft tried to go someway towards interoperability by letting MSN Messenger users contact and chat to AOL users some time ago. But as expecting, this move didn’t go down too well with AOL"

There is a problem having so many instant messenger programs available on the internet, hardly any of them let you interact with other people who use different messenger programs than you do. This means, for example: If you use MSN messenger but a family member or friend of yours uses Aol’s AIM you can’t use MSN to chat with them due to neither AOL or MSN allowing you to.

Yeah it isn’t too difficult to go and download the messenger program that your friend is using, but in this day and age when sharing and communication is paramount why should any of us have to?

I’m not saying that all instant messenger services should all have the same features as one another, I am trying to say that allowing all instant messenger users to communicate with one another is the best way forwards.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to sign up to every instant messenger service under the sun. I’d like the one user name and login like my current MSN one – Byron_Hinson@hotmail.com and be able to use any instant messenger program I want to, but keep the same contacts I have even if I decide to switch to a different instant messenger sometime in the future.

We know that Microsoft tried to go someway towards interoperability by letting MSN Messenger users contact and chat to AOL users some time ago. But as expecting, this move didn’t go down too well with AOL who didn’t want users from MSN Messenger contacting their Aol AIM users via the MSN Messenger service and vice-versa. Thus AOL worked around the problem and stopped this from happening.

While Microsoft’s way of going about adding AOL support was, as usual, probably not the fairest or most polite way of doing it, a lot of users were pleased that Microsoft was at least trying to get Instant Messenger users communicating together, even If they were trying to get a few users from AOL in the process.

I guess you could blame AOL for part of the problem, as stopping Microsoft from adding support for chatting to AIM users via MSN Messenger seems to have stopped most people from discussing Instant Messenger interoperability anymore. Yet AOL has entered into a deal allowing Apple users using the 10.2 operating system to use iChat and have full access to the AOL user base, so there are some signs that they are working on more ways for people to access their users.

"Having interoperability between instant messengers only has to be chat, voice, and web cam and contact information, other features such as ICQ’s SMS service can still be kept as a specific feature of that particular messenger"

A Microsoft spokesperson said, "As we've said all along, we believe that the ultimate benefit for consumers is a standard for instant messaging/interoperability among all IM products. MSN continues to work with the IETF and the rest of the industry to make that happen so that consumers can communicate openly and freely with friends and family no matter what instant messaging service they use."

So is there any chance of all instant messenger programs communicating in the future? Sure there is, but it does seem a long way off right now. A recently released program called “Trillian” has tried its best to combine all instant messengers together like AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger and ICQ, all into one program, but the problem here is that you still have to have an account for each service.

Having interoperability between instant messengers only has to be chat, voice, and web cam and contact information, other features such as ICQ’s SMS service can still be kept as a specific feature of that particular messenger, and if a user wants those features they would have to download ICQ. This would end ever having to switch instant messengers just to a different friend using a different program to you.

So it looks like it will happen, but it will be a long road ahead, as the main players like AOL and Yahoo look unlikely to want to allow their users to chat directly with other major competitive instant messengers. Should it happen? Yes, without any doubt and the sooner the better I say.

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