America Online Inc. has managed to attract another powerful ally for its AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) service -- Novell Inc., whose network operating system helps network administrators manage 80 million users' access to corporate systems.
The agreement, announced today, aims to accomplish two things -- getting AOL's messaging software into the corporate market, and getting Novell's customer base in contact with everyone using AIM. Among the corporate users of AIM are users of Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes groupware, today amounting to 40 million. Lotus has announced that it will deliver a suite containing AIM and other AOL services to Notes installations.
The agreement is good for both AOL and Novell. It gives Novell more contact with the world of the 'Net, and helps AOL expand its reach from consumers to the corporate market, said Mark Levitt, research director at market researcher International Data Corp., based in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Levitt also sees the announcement as a rejection of the claim made by Microsoft Corp. that everyone wants open messenger standards. Microsoft only recently made it to the market with its messenger software and wants communication between its own and AOL's customers. However AOL, in Dulles, Virginia, has refused to open its software. The feud has broken out into an all-out war of words between the companies. AOL claims that Microsoft's method of gaining access to its AIM system is a breach of security. Microsoft says it is just trying to give users what they want -- access to all instant messaging services.
Both companies are now seeking allies among high-tech companies, including developers of other messaging services.
Novell's NetWare operating system competes with Microsoft's Windows NT. Novell now will integrate AIM into its Novell Directory Services, a part of NetWare, which is used by corporations to manage and control user access to applications and other resources. The idea is that network administrators can control the instant messaging technology with their existing system management software.
Taking direct aim at NetWare, Microsoft plans to include a new directory service in the next version of NT, dubbed Windows 2000.
Meanwhile, the agreement between Novell and AOL includes the development of a co-branded instant messenger client for Novell's business users, giving them access to the 28 million registered AIM users.
However, IDC's Mark Levitt expects it to take a year or two before instant messaging is broadly employed in the corporate market. "The technology lacks an electronic paper trail, which is necessary when people are communicating on business projects," he said.
Levitt, however, expects this feature to come, and mentions that Tribal Voice Inc., another vendor of instant messaging, is presently enhancing its PowWow product with a "paper trail."
However, Levitt also said that instant messaging services have problems passing firewalls, making it necessary for the information managers to either set up a proxy server, or limit use of this type of software to internal use. Another problem is that information managers are not happy with having to cope with yet another standalone product, Levitt said.
On the plus side, though, corporate users may find one particular feature of instant messaging services very attractive -- they reveal who is at his or her computer at any given time. "The systems shows you who is online, which is valuable. You don't need also to use it for messages," he said.
The widespread use of instant messaging among consumers also will help push the technology into the corporate world, he said. "Most consumers are also working persons, they don't want to make a clean distinction between the two roles," Levitt said.