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AltaVista enters instant messaging fray

The Web portal launches an instant messaging product that will allow its customers to communicate with Microsoft's MSN Messenger service.

Web portal AltaVista today launched an instant messaging product that will allow its customers to communicate with Microsoft's MSN Messenger service.

Dubbed AltaVista Messenger, the product is powered by Tribal Voice's PowWow instant messaging technology. AltaVista Messenger will allow its members to communicate with Microsoft's service--a way of showing the company's intent to open its network to other technologies.

"Our free service provides the benefit of rich features and multiple communication modes without imposing limitations on the users with whom they may communicate," Rod Schrock, AltaVista's chief executive, said in a statement.

An AltaVista representative added that the company will pursue ways to communicate with America Online's AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). The representative said the services currently are not interoperable, however.

The announcement emphasizes the distinct line between AOL and its rivals. With the deal, AltaVista and Microsoft become the first high-profile companies to allow their instant messaging services to communicate with each other. Both Microsoft and CMGI, which owns AltaVista and Tribal Voice, have engaged in scuffles with AOL when they attempted to make their services interoperable with AIM.

AOL has waged battles with many rival instant messenger services that have tried tapping into AIM. It has fought Microsoft, Prodigy, CMGI's iCast and Tribal Voice, and start-up Odigo after those services began allowing their members to communicate with AIM users without consent.

AIM has 91 million screen names in its Buddy List network, giving it an enormous lead over its competitors. Rivals such as Microsoft and CMGI have demanded that AOL open AIM to outside technologies. They say instant messaging will become a form of communication as ubiquitous as the telephone, and therefore such networks should be open to all, regardless of technology.

Their criticisms have Puppet masters: Who controls the Netattracted the attention of federal regulators. Led by CMGI, a coalition of technology heavyweights have lobbied regulators, asking them to examine AOL's instant messaging lead as part of their review of the online giant's pending merger with Time Warner.

In the past, rivals have also complained that AOL has not kept up with its promises to pursue an instant messaging standard.

However, AOL recently submitted a proposal to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for a universal instant messaging standard. The IETF, the industry's standards body, will review AOL's proposal along with several other submissions and eventually choose one.