AIM Enterprise Gateway Gets Makeover

Updates to America Online's IM proxy and client mark the latest efforts to turn its free instant messaging network into a corporate product.
Continuing efforts to make money from its instant messaging network, AOL Time Warner's America Online unit is taking the wraps off improvements to its IM enterprise gateway software and client.

Most importantly, the new edition of the free AOL Instant Messenger client -- Version 5.2 -- adds support for Public Key Infrastructure-based encrypted instant messaging and file transfers, a feature that AOL began testing in the software in spring.

Version 2.0 of the AIM Enterprise Gateway, which AOL and its resellers license to businesses, adds support for the logging and auditing of encrypted communications. That's crucial for corporations that wish to deploy IM services within the enterprise, but are reluctant to do so if they lack the same sorts of security and archiving protections they've long enjoyed with e-mail.

It's also a key addition for AOL, which is anticipating that businesses will license its Gateway to administer IM traffic instead of using one of the myriad third-party IM gateways on the market, standardizing on a rival solution like those offered by Microsoft or Yahoo! , or shutting off IM entirely.

To that end, the company has been promising to add encryption since even before it launched the offering in November. More than a year ago, AOL brought in Internet security giant VeriSign to serve as the PKI certification authority for Enterprise AIM users. It also struck a deal to use technology developed by third-party gateway vendor FaceTime Communications as the basis for the Gateway.

In more recent months, the company began publicly beta testing AIM Version 5.2, an update to the IM client that would support the feature. Now, the improvements to the Gateway itself mark the final piece of the encryption puzzle.

Now, AOL expects that companies will pay a small fee -- about $10 per user -- for digital certificates issued through VeriSign as part of the system's PKI encryption. End-users in the enterprise can download their own VeriSign certificates from within the AIM client; businesses using the AIM Enterprise Gateway specify which workers are allowed to do so.

Company employees, or consumers using AIM outside of the enterprise, also can import their own digital certificates -- which is ideal if the company already works with VeriSign or another certification authority.

In addition to adding support for encryption, the new Gateway also gives companies improved control over provisioning IM services to employees -- enabling connectivity to LDAP corporate directories for assigning user privileges to individuals by establishing rules that affect departments or specific job titles.

The Gateway also makes it easier for enterprise developers to build and embed AIM Enterprise Gateway functions and AIM presence and messaging within other applications, using new Java APIs.

AOL's update to the AIM Enterprise Gateway comes just weeks after the company began pursuing ways of making money from the efforts of third-party IM gateway vendors -- some of whom are finding significant traction in the marketplace because they manage multiple IM networks, instead of just AIM. As a result, those multi-network vendors often are more appealing to companies who find that Yahoo! and MSN IM services also are in use by their employees.

That prompted America Online to create a certification program designed to eke revenue from these vendors. In return for unspecified "business agreements," the program officially certifies that participating vendors are indeed offering legitimate applications that operate using the AIM network. The program also specifies for some level of technical support. So far, FaceTime rival IMlogic has signed on to the program.

In addition to encryption support, the AIM 5.2 client also formalizes several changes in wireless compatibility that AOL has been testing since late last year. In December, the company began testing a version of AIM that incorporate messaging to users' mobile phones via Short Messaging Service (SMS) -- IM users merely had to add their wireless friends' phone numbers to their Buddy Lists. The enhancement also provided for automatic IM forwarding to mobile devices when users are away from their PCs.

Except for users of Verizon Wireless, with which AOL has technology and marketing deals, mobile phone users cannot respond to either form of message without launching a version of AIM from their device, however. (Verizon Wireless customers, however, can respond directly, via text messaging.)

AOL has said that it is considering ways of monetizing SMS -- which typically requires recipients or senders to pay fees -- but to date has unveiled no specific plans to that effect.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.






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