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Jabber: The Linux of Instant Messaging?

Tough Competition in an Entrenched AOL

  • June 26, 2000
  • By Patricia Fusco

Originally appearing in ISP-Planet.

What's been dubbed the "Instant Messaging War" has centered on skirmishes between outside firms gaining unauthorized access to America Online's instant messaging systems.

Many regard America Online's claim of security interests as a ruse to protect its commercial profits from the service. As an alternative, there are groups that do more than give lip service to developing an open instant messaging standard.

Open Book
Jabber is an open-source platform for instant messaging applications backed by the open-source project and by commercial developer Jabber.com.

Open Source means that hundreds of developers worldwide work on Jabber's project development. The open system permits nearly anyone to operate their own instant messaging systems which can talk to all other Jabber systems.

Jabber works much like e-mail and it uses XML technology at its core.

IETF Leads the Way
In March the Internet Engineering Task Force requested proposals from leading instant messaging firms to develop a standard that would quell the instant messaging protocol wars. Last week marked the deadline for submission of proposals. Each company's proposal focused on varying mechanisms by which instant messaging could be unified to foster full interoperability.

Because Jabber is an Open Source project, it has no political interest in seeing one solution win over another. It operates backward through systems so it is capable of bridging both new and old protocols.

The commercial arm of the project could reap the reward of software distribution of the program, if it is used as the core of the IETF's recommendations due out in July.

While the world awaits an IETF-approved standard, Jabber provides companies with in open platform for instant messaging today.

Miller and Company
Jabber was founded by Jeremie Miller in 1998, and while the instant messaging project is the work several hundred individuals, it's coordinated by a core group of about a dozen developers. Miller continues to lead the project, with assistance and support from Jabber.com and Webb Interactive Services.

Miller said support from developers and employees alike landed on the Jabber solution to instant messaging interoperability.

"We believe our developers provide Jabber.com access to the best expertise available for commercialization of instant messaging services that ensures an Open Source standard," Miller said.

He added that should the Jabber platform be adopted by the IETF, instant messaging would truly achieve its potential to become one of the most important and successful open source projects in the industry.

It's Here; It's Real
The Jabber Open Source project released v1.0 of the Jabber Server in May. According to the working group, several thousand copies of the application were downloaded within weeks of its release. Technicians and system administrators fired up hundreds of Jabber-based instant messaging servers after installing and configuring the application through their networks.

Instant messaging is more than a way to ping pals to see if they're online. It's recognized as one of the strategic gateways to consumer adoption of voice over IP, as well as wireless communication services.

Fighting the Big Blue Triangle
While several instant messaging firms complain that AOL is blocking access to its instant messaging services, FreeIM.org announced it was creating a coalition of instant messaging companies to petition government agencies for a shared access standard.

FreeIM.org filed petitions with the Federal Communication Commission and the Federal Trade Commission last week as a point of contention to AOL's proposed merger with Time Warner.

Unlike most activities that take place on the Internet, instant messaging currently has no standard. Much like the e-mail industry in the 1980s, consistent standards are a precondition to widespread adoption.

Interoperability is important not only as a convenience for consumers, but also as a foundation for unified messaging to fit into the scheme of things in business-to-consumer and business-to-business communication.

The technology offers the industry an opportunity to redefine instant messaging services to transform IM into a far more strategic and fundamental component of the Internet infrastructure.

Jabber is capable of the pulling the politicking out of instant messaging issues today.

But will it be able to survive competition with AOL's profitable propriety system, tomorrow?

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