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From: Tony Berkman (tberkman@rcn.com)
Date: Mon Dec 25 2000 - 22:42:44 PST


I always find it amazing that Microsoft can make these challenges with a
straight face. It's not like Time Warner won't allow other IM protocols to
communicate with each other over their cables (Something MSFT would
probably have explored had they acquired Time Warner).

Monday December 25 12:33 PM ET
                      AOL Service Leads to Controversy

                      By KALPANA SRINIVASAN, Associated Press Writer

                      WASHINGTON (AP) - All else being equal, Duane
Roelands would prefer to
                      dash off short instant text messages to co-workers
and friends with the service
                      offered by Microsoft - the one he finds easiest to use.

                      But for Roelands, all else is not equal: His office,
clients and nearly everyone
                      else he knows use America Online's messaging system.
Now, he does too.

                      ``There are features that I want and I like,'' said
Roelands, a Web developer,
                      who likens it to the battle between VHS and Beta
video recorders in the 1980s.
                      ``But the reality is if I use the better product, I
get less functionality.''

                      For this reason, instant messaging rivals like
Microsoft, AT&T and
                      ExciteAtHome said their users ought to be able to
send messages to anyone
                      else, regardless of what service they happen to have.
That's not currently

                      The companies are lobbying the Federal Communications
Commission (news -
                      web sites) to require AOL to make its product
compatible with those offered
                      by competitors as a condition of its merger with Time

                      So far, the agency appears to favor a more tailored
approach. The
                      commission's staff has recommended that AOL be
required to make its system
                      work with at least one other provider, but the
requirement would apply only to
                      advanced instant messaging services offered over Time
Warner's cable lines.

                      How the agency defines advanced services is unclear.
They could refer to
                      features beyond text messaging, such as video
teleconferencing, the sharing of
                      files or messaging over interactive television.

                      Today, consumers more commonly take advantage of the
garden variety
                      functions. They type short real-time phrases to
others, allowing them to ``chat''
                      back-and-forth using text. Unlike e-mail, it's
instantaneous and gets the
                      recipient's attention right away.

                      People can communicate with international friends
without the hefty phone
                      bills. And the service has taken hold with those who
have hearing or speech

                      Unlike the telephone, people can discreetly interact
with others - or decide not

                      ``It's communications that can be ignored,'' said
Jonathan Sacks, a vice
                      president at AOL, which runs the two leading
messaging services - ICQ and
                      AIM - with 140 million users. ``On the telephone, you
can't see when
                      somebody is near the phone. You can't see when it's
convenient for them to
                      communicate with you.''

                      AOL rivals say that if instant messaging is to be as
ubiquitous as the phone
                      network, it has to work the same way: People who use
different providers must
                      still be able to contact one another. They continue
to lobby the FCC, hoping to
                      see the conditions broadened before the agency issues
its final decision.

                      ``It's really important to get this right before
innovation is squashed because one
                      company has a monopoly,'' said Jon Englund, vice
president of government
                      affairs for ExciteAtHome. ``It's absolutely critical
that Internet uses have real
                      choice among competing platforms.''

                      AOL has said it wants to work toward
interoperability, but first needs to
                      protect consumer privacy and security to prevent the
kinds of problems that
                      have emerged in the e-mail world, like spamming -
unwanted junk messages.

                      Company officials disagreed that AOL's market share
was keeping out
                      competitors. AOL executives cited a recent study by
Media Metrix indicating
                      that the messaging services offered by Yahoo! and
Microsoft are the fastest
                      growing in the United States.

                      Why all the fuss over a free product that anyone,
even those who don't
                      subscribe to AOL, can use?

                      Some pointed to the recent demise of two instant
messaging competitors -
                      iCAST and Tribal Voice - as evidence that AOL's
dominance could prevent
                      choices in the market.

                      Another concern is that AOL could use its substantial
customer base to tack on
                      new advanced services and then charge for them.

                      Rivals said the ability of various services to work
together will become
                      increasingly important in the future. For example, as
instant messaging migrates
                      to cell phones or hand-held computer organizers,
consumers won't want to
                      have to install multiple services on these devices,
said Brian Park, senior
                      product for Yahoo! Communications Services.

                      ``You can have the best service and the coolest
features, but nobody is going to
                      use it if it doesn't communicate with other
services,'' Park said.


                      On the Net:

                      America Online corporate site: http://corp.aol.com

                      IMUnified, coalition formed by AT&T, ExciteAtHome,

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                      Earlier Stories
                      Rivals Oppose AOL Instant Messenger (December 20)

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