The growing acceptance of IM in the workplace has, eventually, made an impression on AOL which has started a public test of AIM Pro PE (Professional Edition). Although not expected to actually launch until the autumn, one has to wonder how much weight the consumer oriented AOL brand carries in the corporate marketplace and whether it can successfully carve a profitable niche there. Designed to cover a broad corporate church, everything from the individual IT professional through to the medium sized businesses, AOL have invested heavily in doing just that.
Developed in conjunction with web conferencing and online meeting specialist WebEx Communications and available for free download during this public Beta phase, AIM Pro PE will require an as yet undisclosed annual subscription fee to continue with its use once this ends. For your money you will get a promise of better security required for the business environment, at least compared to the free consumer version of AIM. The inline adverts will disappear, Microsoft Outlook integration is added, as are voice and video conferencing together with web meeting functionality (the WebEx influence showing its hand). Until the promised anti-virus file scanning, auditing and logging functionality, which is promised but not yet implemented, it’s a bit early to pass judgment upon the worthiness of the new edition and it’s fitness for purpose in a commercial setting.
A separate Beta test is expected to start sometime this week for an Enterprise IM edition (AIM Pro EIM) which will add IT management and administration functions for the larger organization.
Although the global take up of IM in the workplace is estimated at around 135 million users currently, AOL predicts that this will increase to 477 million by 2009. I remain unconvinced that the administrative and security nightmare that is corporate IM will see that kind of growth, especially in view of competing technologies: not least the new wave of converged solutions such as IM/VoIP hybrids. Sure, the availability of dedicated corporate IM software, and IM security hardware, will help but is AOL the right route to drive this acceptance?
I’m less skeptical, it has to be said, when it comes to the latest Open AIM initiative also announced this week. An updated SDK can be downloaded now which helps to morph AIM into a more open and dynamic platform. While Open AIM itself isn’t new, it was first announced in March and AOL claims 45000 developers working with the SDK, added support for Linux, Windows Mobile, Mac OSX and Java platform development and functionality including AIM Bots, PC to PC voice calling and location based services is worthy of note. The ability to use an AIM Bot to send podcasts to a blog, with a single click, is neat and so is the addition of APIs to help build location service functionality into clients and web sites (the latter promised within weeks). PC to PC voice based upon the open source sipXtapi SIP stack and the fact that it’s free for commercial applications with only limited restriction, is also to be applauded. I’m a little disappointed that the restrictions include licensing for mobile device and wireless deployment and custom client usage limited to just 250,000 client invocations (2 million per month), but it’s only a small niggle in the overall scheme of things.