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Tech Industry

Microsoft merger gets message

Microsoft acquires Boston-based start-up Flash Communications, which is developing software for instant messaging networks and buddy lists.

Microsoft (MSFT) has acquired Boston-based start-up Flash Communications, which is developing software for instant messaging networks and buddy lists.

No acquisition price was disclosed.

Microsoft said it will embed the Flash software in its real-time collaboration software, Exchange Chat Services, as well as in its NetMeeting conferencing software. Six Flash employees reportedly will relocate to Microsoft's Redmond, Washington, headquarters.

"This announcement validates the concept of instant messaging by saying that it has Microsoft's blessing," said analyst David Ferris of Ferris Communications. "That is good news for everybody, including, probably, other vendors providing instant messaging."

Instant messaging lets users send and receive short messages that pop up on the recipient's screen without opening an email application. Buddy-list or "presence information" software allows users to see who, within a defined group, is online at any given time, and thus is available for collaboration.

Buddy lists have been a popular feature of America Online, and AOL now allows its users to set up buddy lists with Internet users who aren't AOL subscribers. AOL and Netscape offer a cobranded Instant Messenger service that is built into the latest version of Netscape's Communicator browser.

Microsoft's announcement of its acquisition made no mention of incorporating buddy lists into its online service or into Microsoft Start, a new home page the software giant is beta testing in an effort to boost its site as a point of entry for Internet users.

Although shareware versions of buddy list software exist, Microsoft said they have not been widely adopted by the corporate customers the acquisition is intended to target.

Microsoft also has submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) an Internet draft of a standard for presence and information protocols called "RVP," which stands for "rendezvous protocol." Neither AOL nor Netscape, however, endorse RVP.

The Flash software will be incorporated into the next release of Microsoft Exchange Server. It later will be incorporated into other BackOffice server offerings, but not until the end of 1998, Ferris predicted. He predicted also that it will take Microsoft three years to fully integrate buddy list capabilities into its range of BackOffice products.

Senior reporter Janet Kornblum contributed to this report.