Interoperability is long-term goal – IM vendors
Don't hold your breath
The introduction of enterprise services by Microsoft Corp, Yahoo! Inc and America Online Inc, the big three IM networks, has pitted two independent IM software firms, FaceTime Communications Inc and IMLogic Inc, against each other.
FaceTime and IMLogic have, between them, signed deals to provide server technology to all three networks, supplementing the existing consumer services with the reporting, logging, security and management tools essential to enterprise-grade deployments.
But even though both companies' products can proxy for virtually every IM system, the software cannot ("legally") allow clients of different networks to talk to each other. Whether or not enterprise customers will persuade the networks to interoperate is the subject of some debate.
"Organizations are not anxious to have multiple clients deployed," said Jeff Whitney, marketing director at IMLogic. "We are a few years off from [interoperability] happening, but pressure from customers is certainly there."
But customer demand may not be enough persuasion. "There's no standard protocol for IM yet," Whitney said. "And there's the market dynamics of AOL, Yahoo and MSN continuing to fight for the desktop."
Glen Vondrick, CEO of FaceTime said: "Our view has always been that interoperability is never coming until there is a business model negotiated between the networks... It comes down to the money, and right now there's more for them to lose than gain."
While some firms, notably Jabber Inc, have previously expressed a desire to see IM opened up the same way email was in the early days of the consumer internet, Vondrick said IM's real-time nature makes telephony a better analogy.
"I think it will be very similar to the cellular service, roaming," Vondrick said. "When you make a roaming call your carrier has negotiated an agreement with the other carrier. I think that's the model that will come in here."
It seems likely that the three big firms will see which of them makes the best progress in the enterprise marketplace before these kinds of deals become a reality. In the meantime, FaceTime and IMLogic have a great opportunity to fight it out for customers.
AOL commissioned FaceTime to build its IM gateway, which is already in general availability, based on FaceTime's flagship IM Director platform. AOL is also rumored to be talking to IMLogic, but anecdotal evidence suggests nothing has yet been signed.
IMLogic got the better deal with MSN. Microsoft has actually licensed the archiving components of IM Manager for use in software codenamed "Greenwich", a real-time communications platform that is due to ship next year.
But Microsoft is letting both companies sell its products into companies that sign up for its MSN Messenger Connect service, which assigns namespaces to companies based on their domain names (closing the accounts of anybody that already has that domain in their MSN screen name).
Yahoo has also signed partnerships with both companies for them to provide the logging and archiving components of its enterprise IM offering, evidently on equal terms.
According to FaceTime's Vondrick, the big IM firms are "hedging their bets" by partnering with both his company and IMLogic, a decision made after they discovered their competitors were also partnered with one or the other.