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The Jabber Jihad: Universal Instant Messaging

America Online has said it supports the idea of a universal protocol for open instant messaging, and some parties are asking the FTC to make this a prerequisite of approving AOL's merger with Time Warner. The company appears to be dragging its feet, possibly to drag out its proprietary advantage. But with workarounds like Jabber, is that a problem?

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John Ochwat
Technology Reporter for O'Reilly Network and Forbes ASAP

"[AOL has] every advantage in the world for not moving on this. They have a monopoly position. They have over 90 percent of the market. You can make the case that instant messaging is free, so what good is a monopoly. But the AOL Instant Messenger has a little ad window on it, which they can sell, and that's lucrative. They also steer more traffic to their portal pages, ICQ.com and AOL.com. And it's a classic case of viral marketing: if you and I are both on here and a friend of ours is going to get a chat client, they're going to want to chat with us. And if the only way they can do that is AOL Instant Messenger, that's probably the one they're going to pick up."

Peter Saint-Andre
System Architect, Jabber.com

"The [Jabber] server is where the complexity is, and that was done so that it would be easy to write clients. So there are Java clients, there's Linux, and for just about all the platforms out there. There's a Palm client in the works. We designed it so that the clients are pretty easy, and there's a plethora of clients and more every day. Depending on which server you connect with, you can connect to other services out there in the world, that would include ICQ, IRC, MSN, Yahoo, some of the major IM systems."

Derrick Story
Managing Editor, O'Reilly Network

"I can see that, because of the peer-to-peer nature of Jabber, it would be difficult to close down the AOL transport. One of the ways that they could present problems for everyone would be by constantly tweaking their server situation so that people have to constantly scramble to update the transports if they really wanted to play hardball."

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