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IM compatibility closer to reality

The Internet's governing technical body gives a stamp of approval to a group intent on creating an open standard for instant messaging.

The Internet's governing technical body quietly gave its stamp of approval Thursday to a group intent on creating an open standard for instant messaging.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the group that sets the technical standards for the Internet, gave the go-ahead to the creators of open-source instant-messaging application Jabber to create a working group based on that technology. These such groups plan the specific implementations of the technologies that make up the Internet.

A representative of the new working group wasn't immediately available for comment.

Called the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), the group's instant messaging standard gives Internet users hope of one day being able to send messages to anyone on the Net, no matter what software they are using.

The group is also charged with adding security--including authentication, privacy and access control--to instant messaging, according to the group's charter.

Currently, AOL Time Warner, Yahoo and Microsoft divide nearly all instant messenger users among them. Yahoo and Microsoft, as well as smaller IM clients, have in the past called on America Online to open its instant messaging system to rivals.

Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL Time Warner did not immediately comment Friday.

AOL Time Warner's online subsidiary has been under increased scrutiny by the federal government for its dominance in the instant messenger arena. As a condition of its merger with Time Warner, AOL has been required by the Federal Communications Commission to offer interoperability with outside services should it launch any "advanced IM" product, such as a version that includes video.

Calls for interoperability have quieted among consumers, but business users have become more earnest in their exhortations for a single standard. In October, seven brokerage firms formally announced the Financial Services Instant Messaging Association to promote standards in the instant messenger industry.

The new working group could have some competition from IBM and Microsoft, which have promoted a separate standard known as SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions) based on SIP or the Session Initiation Protocol. SIP is a way of signaling applications on the Internet to enable conferencing, telephony, presence, events notification and instant messaging. The IETF approved SIMPLE as a proposed standard in September. That technology is being developed by the Session Initiation Protocol Working Group.

Earlier this week, AOL Time Warner announced that users of its AOL Instant Messenger and an older messaging system, ICQ, will be able to send messages to one another starting with AIM 5.1, which is currently being tested.

The XMPP Working Group's charter calls for the group to complete a revised specification by December.