AOL promises open instant messenger

Dogged by a deadline to open up its instant messaging system to rivals Barry Schuler, chairman and chief executive officer of the Internet arm of AOL Time Warner Inc., said Monday that technical hurdles have kept the company from adhering to the federally imposed order.

Schuler delivered the opening keynote presentation at a broadband conference here, sponsored by CTAM, a trade group for the cable television industry.

AOL reached a deadline Monday to deliver a progress report regarding the issue of instant messaging interoperability with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), months after concluding regulatory hearings with the federal commission during its merger hearings. AOL was expected to have an open instant messaging system ready for testing by now.

"It hasn't being delayed, it's just hard to do," Schuler told reporters following his keynote. He added that the company is "committed to launching a test of the system sometime this summer," but has yet to announce any partnerships with other technology providers.

Attempting to convince cable operators and digital television content providers to team with AOL Time Warner for delivering high speed Internet access to more customers, Schuler pitched the company's software as the preferred platform for hosting new applications. Instant messaging, he said, is one of the first and most important applications that the company can point to as a successful technology.

"People are not on the telephone anymore," he said. "Instant messaging has changed the way people communicate."

But the technology has yet to surpass the telephone, as Schuler predicted it will someday. Like instant messaging applications from rivals Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., AOL's two instant messaging applications -- ICQ and AIM -- are unable to let their approximately 30 million subscribers chat with users of competing systems. Opening up the network was a regulatory stipulation of AOL Time Warner's merger.

"I have consistently said that there are a number of difficulties with interoperability. One is security. The other is: No one has ever made it work," Schuler said. "If it's so easy to do why hasn't Microsoft done it? Why hasn't Yahoo (Inc.) done it?"

A number of groups are attempting to come up with a technical solution to the problem. The Internet Engineering Task Force, as well as IMUnified, a group of messaging and technology vendors, are both working on creating a system for interoperability.

Microsoft has recently put more weight behind its instant messaging technology. The company announced it will include its MSN Messenger with the new Windows XP operating system when it is released Oct. 25. The technology combines text messaging with voice and video. Yahoo Inc. also continues to push its instant messaging technology to consumers.

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