AOL, MS dare each other on messaging standard

America Online and Microsoft are continuing their "cat and mouse" battle over instant messaging, even as they separately issued high-minded calls to set messaging standards.

Since last week Microsoft has continued to release messaging software to allow its Microsoft Network (MSN) users to communicate with users of AOL's Instant Messenger Service (AIM). AOL, in turn, keeps blocking the software, company officials said.

At the same time, both AOL and Microsoft said they are ready to begin peace talks, but only on their respective terms. The two giants have been dueling since July 23 when Microsoft and Yahoo first began releasing their respective instant messaging software to reach AOL users. While Microsoft has been persistent, Yahoo has given up trying to bypass AOL's blocking tactics.

Yesterday, both Microsoft and AOL issued public appeals for industry standards.

Microsoft issued a public letter to Steve Case, AOL's president and chief executive officer, asking him to open up the proprietary system and asking him to support an instant messaging standard. Joining Microsoft in the letter were Yahoo, AT&T, Excite@Home, Activerse, Tribal Voice, Prodigy Communications and Infoseek.

"We are sure you are aware of the issue regarding interoperability between the instant messaging services of AOL and other vendors and of AOL's efforts to block instant messaging clients from other companies," the Microsoft letter said. "These actions have led to an unproductive game of cat and mouse as we respond to your blockages to turn interoperability back on for users and you block us again."

AOL issued its own call for Microsoft to join a quickly-formed standards advisory group that includes heavy hitters such as Steve Jobs, Apple Computer's founder and interim chief executive officer; Marc Andreessen, AOL's chief technology officer; Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems and Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer of Novell, among others.

However, before it deals with Microsoft, AOL is demanding that Microsoft stop trying to reach its users.

"The common goal here is to arrive at a standard for instant messaging," AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose said. "But we are not going to allow Microsoft to hack into our instant messaging servers."

Meanwhile, Microsoft says it will continue to go around AOL's blocks.

"They (AOL) keep trying to block us and we will keep trying to interoperate in order to allow all (messaging) users to talk with each other," said Tom Pilla, a Microsoft spokesman.

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Jack McCarthy

PC World

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