In what could be an important week for anyone with the slightest interest in online chat, Microsoft and Yahoo began a limited public Beta which sees users of the two IM systems being able to talk to each other for the first time. My inside man tells me that the Beta should be very short, after which cross-network IM will be available to all, but not voice chat as both companies are keeping that little pot of glory under wraps for now.

This is not, feel sure, being done out of the goodness of their hearts. This is a business decision pure and simply. Just look at the market share: AOL's AIM service has 56 percent of all IM users, MSN Windows Live Messenger 25 percent and Yahoo Messenger 19 percent. By joining forces and allowing this kind of interoperability, they are literally taking aim at AIM.

As usual, out here in the real world of online geekiness, cross network IM interoperability is a reality already: sort of. There are numerous third party clients that enable multiple conversations on different networks within the single application, albeit not true cross network chat. This is why the announcement is important in the world of IM, as far as I am concerned. It will be important as far as the other IM networks are concerned as well, because the combined market share and added usability will no doubt push them into joining the let us all talk together movement. I hope.

A step in the right direction I believe. All we need then is AOL to see the light and allow their products (AIM and ICQ) to 'talk' and people will be able to choose what protocol/client they use on the merits of the service and software and not just on what their mates are using.

The cynic in me, however, says MS allowed this because they cba continuing MSN Messenger for the MAC

/GAIM user

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