In a partnership with Web-conferencing leader WebEx Communications, AOL plans to launch the tentatively named AIM Pro in the second quarter. One AIM Pro package will target small businesses and the self-employed, while another is intended to appeal to larger companies. Both will differ from the free AIM service by offering a customized interface, additional security, voice, video and Web collaboration capabilities, the companies said in a statement.
"We are extremely pleased to be working with WebEx to offer at-work users a customized AIM experience that works in a professional environment and addresses today?s business communications needs," said Brian Curry, AOL vice president of Premium and Subscription Services.
This is AOL's latest attempt to cash in on the popularity of its AIM service. What remains to be seen is whether the new applications can entice companies to pay for instant messaging. Yahoo, Microsoft and Google also offer free IM services.
AOL pioneered instant messaging more than a decade ago and owns 56 percent of the worldwide market share, according to the research firm, the Radicati Group.
But AOL has had to fend off increasing competition from the next two biggest competitors in the sector: Microsoft and Yahoo. The companies that they would for the first time allow their customers to communicate across instant-message platforms. The combined customer base of Yahoo and Microsoft equals 44 percent of the market.