Software vendors will introduce the first interoperable enterprise instant messaging applications in the next two to three years, a well-known IT industry analyst predicts. Though one consumer IM client offers limited interoperability now, it may not be a wise choice for corporate use.
Public demand for compatibility between the many enterprise, consumer, free and subscription-based IM applications is extremely high, said Michael Osterman, principal analyst of Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Wash. He said this demand will be met as soon as IM vendors like Microsoft, America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc. agree upon and implement the standards to make it happen.
"Interoperability will be key to advancing the use of IM, particularly in the enterprise and for consumer-facing systems," Osterman said.
Some consumers have addressed the desire for integration among several IM applications by downloading Trillian, a popular application from Brookfield, Conn.-based Cerulean Studios LLC that allows users to combine the buddy lists of different IM programs in one interface. The software doesn't enable direct connectivity between different programs, but it does let users manage their various services from one window.
Both Yahoo and Microsoft have tried unsuccessfully to block Cerulean's product by forcing their users to upgrade to versions that weren't compatible with the Trillian software. Experts said the two companies wanted to stop Trillian from accessing their IM programs because the application hurts their ability to differentiate themselves from one another and their ability to make money from advertising.
Analysts, users and IM vendors interviewed said that, while Trillian is a fine application for consumers, it wouldn't be suitable for enterprises. Jon Sakoda, vice president of products for IMlogic Inc., a Waltham, Mass.-based vendor of enterprise instant messaging applications, said he hasn't met a single customer that embraces Trillian software in the enterprise. The reason, he said, is that Trillian, which is offered in both a free and a paid version, doesn't come with a support contract.
Cerulean Studios could not be reached for comment.
B.J. Culpepper, manager of global networking for a systems integration company, said he likes the convenience provided by Trillian software. But, he said, security concerns with the application eventually persuaded him to return to using AOL Instant Messenger by itself.
For example, "there is an encryption button on Trillian, but it doesn't let you know if our communication is actually encrypted," he said.
Culpepper also said that sending files from one Trillian user to another is a seamless process. But if you're sending files from Trillian to an AIM user, the process can sometimes take as long as 45 seconds to one minute to get started.
IM software products are currently going through a period of incompatibility similar to what the telephone and other communications technologies went through when they were relatively new, Osterman said.
"In the consumer IM space, there is a disincentive for interoperability because these vendors want people to be attracted to their particular system," Osterman said. "The more of your friends that are on a particular system, the more likely that you are to use that system."
But in the enterprise market, there is an incentive to establish interoperability because vendors charge money for their systems, and because potential customers want compatible products, he said.
In February, a program that many thought was a worm sent unwanted advertisements to many AIM users and people on their buddy lists. McAfee called the program "adware," while others called it spam, or spim (for "instant messaging spam"). The Jitux-A worm moved through Microsoft's MSN Messenger in December by pointing unsuspecting users to a Web site that exploited vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer.
Despite security concerns, IM applications are increasing in popularity. Research from the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto, Calif-based analysis firm, states that 47% of corporations have more than one instant messaging client in use. Radicati also finds that the average corporate IM user spends 70 minutes per day sending and receiving instant messages, as compared to 40 minutes per day for the consumer user.