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Start-up taps open-source messaging trend

Jabber.com hopes to capitalize on companies' needs for software and services based on the freely available open-source instant messaging technology.

The fledgling business of open-source instant messaging technology is following in the footsteps of Linux with a for-profit start-up.

The start-up, Jabber.com, hopes to capitalize on companies' needs for software and services based on the freely available new technology.

"What Red Hat is to Linux, Jabber.com will be to Jabber.org," Andre Durand, general manager and board member of the company, said in an interview.

In an open-source development model, the underlying source code for a piece of software is made available to the public. Developers volunteer their labor, and anyone can use the code under the terms of a public license. Jabber.org has spent two years spearheading and organizing such volunteer work on an open-source instant messaging system.

While free of charge, the implementation of open-source software can be a dicey proposition for a company unless there's someone to call for packaged software, technical support and other services.

Modeling itself on Red Hat and its competitors, Jabber.com plans to sell those products and services to companies that want to implement a messaging system based on the open-source instant messaging work of Jabber.org. That group last week announced version 1.0 of an instant messaging server that promises to be compatible with a broad range of instant messaging platforms, including America Online's jealously guarded ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger.

AOL has spent the past several months fending off attempts by Microsoft, Yahoo and others to tap into those systems, which dominate the instant messaging market.

Unlike the proprietary messaging systems in widespread use today, the Jabber system proposes to operate from a widely distributed collection of servers, much the way email works. To distinguish among and deliver messages to various established instant messaging systems, Jabber borrows from the email system in appending an "@" sign followed by the name of the messaging platform--for example, "user@yahoo" or "user@msn."

"Because of Jabber's distributed architecture, for the first time, anyone can operate their own IM system and know that instant messages can be sent not only to other Jabber systems and users, but also to users of other IM networks," reads the new company's promotional materials.

With "anyone" now able to operate instant messaging systems based on Jabber.org's work, Jabber.com hopes to step in to provide help with installing, operating and hosting those servers.

Jabber.com is a majority-owned subsidiary of Webb Interactive, which last year hired Jabber.org's founder and put three of its own developers to work on the open-source messaging project full time.

Jabber.com's close see story: AOL's instant messaging conundrumfollowing of the example set by commercial Linux extends to its advisory board, which includes some of the best-known names in the open-source world.

The members are Doc Searles, senior editor for Linux Journal; Eric Raymond, board member of VA Linux, author of open-source manifesto "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," and founder of the Open Source Initiative; James Barry, vice president of strategic initiatives at Collab.net and a former employee of IBM credited by some for spurring that company's interest in open-source software; and Mark Siefertson, co-founder and senior partner with Diamond Technology Partners.

Jabber.com's president and board chairman is Perry Evans, who before founding NetIgnite in 1998 (now owned by Webb) founded and was president of MapQuest (now owned by AOL).

Diamond Technology Partners has an equity stake in Jabber.com.