Instant messaging has taken a step forward with the industry’s standards body approving an open source-developed protocol.
The Internet Engineering Task Force signed off on January 30 on the core specifications for XMPP (extensible messaging and presence protocol), which was developed by the Jabber open source movement.
The major consumer instant messaging services, AIM and ICQ (both owned by AOL), Yahoo and MSN, use proprietary technology but as the business market started to see uses for IM — either internally or as a way to deal with customers — a push for open standards began. This has led to the emergence of two competing protocols, XMPP and SIMPLE, which will probably continue to co-exist.
XMPP is an open protocol widely used as a protocol bridge between open source and proprietary IM systems. It grew out of the Jabber open source project and continues to be extended by the Jabber Software Foundation, a non-profit organisation.
According to JSF, more than 215,000 open source XMPP servers have been deployed, creating a worldwide user base of seven to 10 million people for Jabber servers.
SIMPLE, or session initiation protocol for instant messaging and presence leveraging extensions, is an effort to layer presence and availability information on top of SIP, which was originally designed to negotiate connections between nodes on a network. SIMPLE is built into Microsoft Live Communications Server 2003, which provides IM and presence functionality for Office Live Meeting — part of the Office 2003 suite released last year. IBM’s IM platform, Sametime, is proprietary but is similar and also supports SIMPLE.
In the absence of a cross-platform standard, Jabber Inc (a commercial company started by members of the Jabber open source community) started offering a way to integrate the various IM services.
Jabber’s flagship server product, Jabber XCP (extensible communications platform), and the Jabber Interoperability suite provide gateways between different flavours of IM.
Jabber also sells a downloadable IM client (Jabber Messenger) which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, and Jabber Web Client, a multiprotocol IM client which runs in an HTML browser running on multiple OSes.
Jabber XCP, which is Java-based and runs on Windows, Sun Solaris and Red Hat Linux, is also a development platform for creating presence-enabled communications. In the US, EDS and Disney use Jabber inhouse and HP uses Jabber for online support.
Jabber claims 100 commercial users for XCP, which it is also starting to sell to telcos and network providers who want to give customers the ability to use IM over their mobile networks.
Jabber is also working on interoperability with wireless technologies such as SMS, WAP and GPRS and participates in wireless standards initiatives. Wireless Village (also known as IMPS), for example, an IM protocol for mobile telephony applications that was originally developed by handset manufacturers Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia, is fairly complete. In October 2003 an XMPP-to-IMPS gateway was released. Jabber provides the Jabber Wireless Gateway, which is sold as a separate module to Jabber XCP and which extends Jabber to SMS and WAP-enabled devices.
Auckland-based JabLab has begun offering Jabber instant messaging on mobile phones. Jabber VP of development Rick Emery hopes the deal will expose Jabber technology to the New Zealand and Australian marketplaces.