Yahoo bolsters its enterprise IM offering

Yahoo Inc. said Wednesday that it is bolstering its enterprise instant messaging (IM) product, adding features such as the ability to launch a Web conference, as the company vies for position in the burgeoning corporate IM market.

Under a new deal with WebEx Communications Inc., the next version of Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition will allow users to set up and launch WebEx meetings, giving video, IP voice and telephone conferencing capabilities, as well as the ability to share some applications, browsers and desktops.

With the upgrade, the Sunnyvale, California Internet company is hoping to tap into the growing popularity of both corporate instant messaging and Web conferencing, which have experienced an uptick in adoption over the last couple of years.

Yahoo's upcoming enterprise messaging product will also integrate IM functionality into BEA Systems Inc.'s WebLogic Workshop unified developer environment, allowing developers to build IM presence - or the ability to see when another user is online and available to communicate - and IM-based applications using Yahoo Messenger Control for WebLogic Workshop, Yahoo said.

The integration comes thanks to an agreement with BEA, aimed at allowing developers to integrate IM "bots" into back-end systems such as corporate directories and collaboration tools.

BEA already plans to integrate Yahoo Messenger IM functionality into the upcoming version of its eSupport online customer support service, allowing customers to IM the company's support engineers and account managers.

Yahoo's move to enhance its corporate IM product comes as rivals such as Microsoft Corp. and America Online Inc. are battling for their own places in the up-and-coming market, where demand for tighter business collaboration tools seems to be driving a new set of offerings.

In fact, market research firm The Radicati Group predicted Wednesday that the worldwide corporate instant messaging market would reach US$344 million by 2007, led by the North American region.

The group also estimated that active IM accounts would grow from 590 million in 2003 to 1.4 billion in 2007.

This demand for corporate IM will open the door to the emergence of new IM management and enterprise development tools, Radicati said.

In the meantime, existing IM players are doing their best to grab marketshare. While Microsoft and IBM Corp. both see corporate instant messaging as part of more expansive workplace collaboration tools, with their respective Microsoft Real-Time Communications Server and Lotus Sametime offerings, AOL and Yahoo are hoping to leverage their large consumer IM user bases with souped-up corporate products.

The existing version of Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition already offers text messaging, file transfer and Webcam functions, as well as message encryption, virus scanning and message logging.

The company did not say exactly when the next version of its corporate IM product would be available.