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AOL to block Tribal Voice messaging users

Just as it moved against Microsoft, America Online will restrict an instant messaging service developed by Tribal Voice from communicating with AOL users.

Just as it moved against Microsoft, America Online today said it will block an instant messaging service developed by software company Tribal Voice from communicating with AOL users.

The statement came the same day that Freeserve, a British free ISP that competes with AOL, announced it has licensed Tribal Voice's PowWow instant messenger software. As part of the announcement, Tribal Voice said PowWow will communicate with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) users.

But what Tribal Voice considers a step toward opening channels of communication, AOL criticizes as an unauthorized attempt to access its servers. "We will block it because it's unauthorized access to our servers that jeopardizes member security and privacy," said Tricia Primrose, an AOL spokeswoman.

Instant messaging, made popular by AOL, allows users to communicate with friends and family in a real-time chat format. AOL has dominated the niche by maintaining 45 million screen names in its instant messenger "Buddy List" network and an additional 40 million registrations in ICQ, the instant messaging software it acquired last year.

But the online giant is in the midst of a feud with Microsoft over the latter's new MSN Instant Messenger. When Microsoft launched Messenger in July, it touted the software's ability to enable communication with AIM users after they entered their AIM password. AOL accused Microsoft of hacking into its servers to offer the feature.

The two companies have since volleyed blocks and fixes. AOL has restricted access to its AIM users and automatically logged off Messenger users trying to chat with AOL users. Microsoft in return has posted fixes to skirt around the blockades.

Primrose said a number of companies, including ISPs EarthLink and MindSpring, email service Juno, and computer maker Apple, have signed on with AOL to develop versions of AIM for their own users. But Tribal Voice is not among that list of partners.

According to Tribal Voice, AOL has never extended an offer to join its partnerships.

"We've been trying to talk to them for the last several weeks," said Richard Dym, Tribal Voice's vice president of marketing. "Somehow we haven't been able to make it into that group."