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AIM knocks on offices' doors

America Online dresses up its IM and IM developer program for another stab at the working crowd.

America Online may face a hard sell with its AOL Enterprise Federation Partner program, a new effort unveiled Thursday that's designed to link IM users at work.

Converting free consumer products like AOL's Instant Messenger, or AIM, into paid services tailored to a business clientele can be harder than it looks. While AOL estimates 14 million of its AIM users trade messages with each other at work, it and other Web titans have found themselves on the sidelines when it came time to sell their products to professional IT managers.

The company is reviving that effort with the partner program. Four software companies--Antepo, Jabber, Omnipod and Parlano--are now offering their business customers, and users of Apple Computer's iChat, secure access to AOL's network of messaging services, which includes AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ.

But it'll be a tough go. Security is one glaring growth scuttler for enterprise-oriented instant messaging. On Thursday, Reuters news service confirmed a shutdown of its own instant-messaging system after suffering an onslaught from a new Kelvir worm.

AOL scrapped its earlier efforts in the enterprise messaging business almost a year ago, and shortly after that revived its plans for targeting corporate customers. Since then, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is also working with America Online to include AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ services on the BlackBerry, besides offering AOL's mobile-mail service.

BlackBerry users will get access to their AOL Buddy List feature or ICQ contact list for chatting on both networks. Two years ago, AOL ended a deal with RIM in which the two offered a co-branded wireless messaging device. Shortly after that, RIM began equipping the BlackBerry with instant-messaging software from IBM's Lotus division.