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AIM to buddy up with Lotus IM in test

With one eye on the growing corporate IM market, America Online lays plans to test a business version of its instant messaging software with another--Lotus Sametime.

America Online plans to test for the first time a business version of its AOL Instant Messenger software with another instant messaging program.

The test, which the companies are expected to formally announce on Monday, involves Enterprise AIM and IBM's Lotus Sametime. It is designed to let companies use Enterprise AIM with embedded software that allows them monitor and control its use among employees. Until now, only the Sametime service has offered instant messaging management of this kind.

The test will occur on Sametime Connect, a dual-headed client that lets people communicate with their Sametime buddies and their AIM buddies separately.

"What we're doing is taking the AIM gateway server side by side" with Sametime, said Bruce Stewart, AOL's senior vice president of strategic business solutions. "In the same way you can manage Sametime users, you can manage AIM users."

The test marks another step in AOL's attempt to sell a secure version of AIM to corporations. The company in November its Enterprise AIM Service suite of software products, targeting companies that want to use instant messaging with security and monitoring features.

For corporations, instant messaging products have become an unexpected--and unfettered--means of communication. Businesses have raised concerns about instant messaging services that operate without the same level of security and monitoring provided by e-mail. Because of this, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo have all taken steps this year to launch instant messaging products designed for businesses.

Corporate administrators have clamored for features--similar to those found on e-mail servers--that offer a layer of security against hackers and provide tools to monitor and archive text exchanges. Some companies have resorted to blocking unprotected instant messaging clients from accessing their internal networks. The banking sector, in particular, has supported instant messaging services that offer these extra features.

With the IBM test, AOL plans to begin allowing Sametime and Enterprise AIM users to log on using a single screen name. However, the test will not allow server-to-server interoperability between the two services--meaning Sametime and AIM buddy lists will be featured on the same client, but the groups will not communicate on the same back-end network.

Last week, Hewlett Packard announced it would integrate Enterprise AIM into its global messaging products for corporations and small businesses. The deal allows HP to build products using Enterprise AIM functionality.

Instant messaging has become one of the most popular activities on the Internet, letting people exchange text messages in real time. Internet giants such as AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo have amassed millions of users on their services, and they all consider the software a gateway to other services and content throughout their Web properties.

Despite instant messaging's widespread popularity, however, companies have resisted charging for the standard service, fearing defections to competitors' products.