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AOL launches corporate IM service

AIM Pro, to be released Wednesday, features security and online meeting functions aimed at corporate users.

AOL is set to launch on Wednesday its new AIM Pro instant-messaging service, which features security and online meeting functions aimed at corporate users.

The service, which is free for anyone to use, integrates with Microsoft Outlook's calendar and corporate directory and offers one-click access to WebEx voice and video conferencing and collaboration services.

Eventually the one-to-one video conferencing will be expanded to allow four-way conferencing, said Brian Curry, vice president of business services at AOL.

AIM Pro gives people the option of using their professional e-mail addresses as their AIM screen names. It also provides business-grade security and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption and automatic antivirus file scanning.

A tabbed AIM Pro Buddy List features new modules that let users do a quick people search and listen to news-related podcasts from CNN, ABC News and others. Users also have easy access to Wall Street Journal finance, technology and business stories and stock quotes and market data from AOL Finance.

Later, AOL will offer premium packages for a fee that include an IT management console, logging and regulatory compliance features, Curry said.

Instant messaging, used in more than 90 percent of North American workplaces, "has created a lot of headaches for IT managers because it is consumer software" that lacks the management and security features corporations need, said Michael Osterman, founder of Osterman Research. "AOL and WebEx have gone a long way toward solving the problems of instant messaging in the enterprise."

However, the biggest problem in the market is lack of interoperability between platforms, he said.

The market seems to be bifurcating with AOL and its partners, which will eventually include Google Talk through an agreement with Google, on one side, and Microsoft and Yahoo on the other.

Last week, Microsoft and Yahoo joined their IM networks and declined to say whether they were in talks with AOL on connecting the IM networks.

When asked if there would be interoperability between the Microsoft-Yahoo IM network and AOL's, Curry said: "I think we are slowly making our way there...We don't have anything to announce around that right now."

The AIM Pro service connects to more than 80 million users on the global AOL instant-messaging network through AOL AIM, ICQ and Apple Computer's iChat, AOL said. The service also gives users access to more than 75 percent of all corporate IM users through AOL agreements with Microsoft Live Communications Server, IBM's Lotus Sametime and others.

AIM Pro can be downloaded at AOL's site.