Lotus Looking to Connect to AOL's ICQ IM Software

SAN FRANCISCO (06/23/2000) - Lotus Development Corp. is one of the few companies whose instant messaging software already connects to one of America Online Inc.'s two IM product offerings -- AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM. The IBM Corp. subsidiary is currently holding discussions with the U.S. Internet service provider about linking to AOL's other IM software, ICQ, according to a Lotus executive.

"We are talking to AOL about ICQ," Paul Haverstock, Sametime general manager at Lotus' Iris Associates development laboratories, based in Westford, Massachusetts, said Thursday at Lotus' developers conference DevCon here. "AOL is connecting AIM to ICQ, so we could wait and connect that way or connect directly," he added.

Instant messaging is one of the capabilities of Lotus' Sametime live online collaboration software. Currently, AOL's AIM is the only instant messaging software which connects to Sametime, meaning that users of either products can exchange real-time text messages.

Lotus first announced the non-exclusive deal with AOL to link up Sametime and AIM in January of last year at its Lotusphere user conference in Boston. [See "LOTUSPHERE: AOL/Lotus Link for Web Services," Jan. 18, 1999.] In July 1999, Lotus released version 1.5 of Sametime which included the interoperability with AIM. [See "UPDATE: Lotus Launches Sametime Upgrade," July 28, 1999.]For more than a year, other instant messaging vendors have strongly criticized AOL for blocking access between their IM software and AIM, preventing interoperability between the products. Those complaining included Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., iCast Corp., Tribal Voice Inc. and Odigo Inc. Between them, AOL's AIM and ICQ control 90 percent of the instant messaging market, according to an iCast estimate.

Haverstock believes that Lotus managed to secure Sametime's connectivity with AOL's AIM because the company was willing to negotiate with the U.S. ISP.

"I think these other people who have connected their IM products to AOL (and then been blocked by AOL) have not sat down with AOL, they just tried to do it," Haverstock said. "We went to AOL and sat down and talked about ways to preserve security and to prevent the software from being hacked. There's a good relationship between us and AOL."

Last week, AOL finally submitted a proposal for an interoperability protocol to a working group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The IETF group is currently working on developing an Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol (IMPP) and had requested proposals for the standard from IM vendors. [See "AOL Submits Protocol for Open Instant Messaging," June 16.]AOL's move came hard on the heels of requests to the company from both the U.S.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for information about its instant messaging activities, particularly in relation to the issue of interoperability.

The federal interest was prompted by the proposed merger between AOL and media giant Time Warner Inc. AOL and Time Warner shareholders Friday voted to approve the merger, which still requires regulatory approval.

Lotus has plans to link up Sametime to IM products from other companies.

Haverstock said that the IETF working group is making "good progress" on IMPP.

"Instant messaging needs to be ubiquitous," he said. "As soon as a consensus (on IMPP) appears to be emerging, we intend to implement other IM interoperability."

Haverstock didn't think that the acrimony between AOL and the instant messaging vendors whose software it had blocked had hurt the IM market. In fact, he said, it could be something of a positive development. "It has helped," he said. "It has brought IM to the attention of more people and raised awareness about it."

In other Sametime announcements at DevCon here this week, Lotus said that version 2.0 of the software due to appear in the third quarter of this year will feature real-time video and audio capabilities. The company also revealed that a Sametime extension, currently known as Lotus Translation Services for Sametime (LTSS), due out in September, will enable users without knowledge of each other's languages to engage in instant messaging. [See "Lotus Working to Break Down Language Barriers," June 22.]DevCon kicked off here Wednesday and runs through Saturday. Information on the conference can be found at http://www.lotus.com/home.nsf/welcome/devcon.

Lotus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, can be reached at +1-617-577-8500 or http://www.lotus.com/. AOL, in Dulles, Virginia, is at +1-703-448-8700 or at http://www.aol.com/.

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