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Why didn't AOL open-source its IM client?

The Time Warner unit just missed a big opportunity--to make AIM the default messaging platform for enterprises and consumers, Matt Asay writes.

AOL is getting a lot of credit for "opening" its ubiquitous AIM instant-messaging software "to open source." However, like Microsoft did recently by revealing documentation to its APIs and protocols, all AOL has done here is open access to OSCAR protocols necessary to create open-source implementations.

This is great, but consider just how much more AOL could have done--and for its benefit--such as open-sourcing its instant-messaging server and client software.

Think about it. What revenue does AOL protect by keeping its IM software closed? Sure, there's advertising revenue from the obnoxious ads it sprays around the client, but that is thinking far too small.

The real money is in abundance. Or in "adoption-led markets," to borrow Sun Microsystems' nomenclature.

Let's imagine that AIM were the default messaging platform for enterprises and consumers. Open source makes that much more likely because it would likely lead to a more widely distributed and used collaboration platform. It would get embedded into all sorts of applications.

A platform used by everyone is much more valuable than a platform used by many people. AOL would almost certainly continue to guide the platform because it would attract more developers to grok the code. It would therefore still have the opportunity to provide advertising, support (in the enterprise), and other services around the core platform.

An open-source AIM could be the instant-messaging collaboration platform. Not just first among equals or one of many.

But AOL didn't do this. It simply made it easier to read up on how AIM works. That's great, but it's a poor shadow of what AOL should have done.