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Wireless firm tackles IM compatibility

Air2Web unveils a package designed to let users of business-oriented wireless devices more easily trade messages between rival instant messaging programs.

Wireless company Air2Web unveiled on Monday a package designed to let users of business-oriented wireless devices more easily trade messages between rival instant messaging programs.

The hardware and software setup, called 2IM, enables users of disparate IM programs from Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL to swap messages, Air2Web Chief Technology Officer Dale Gonzalez said. Software designed to address IM interoperability problems already exists, but Gonzalez said 2IM is unique because it's specifically tailored for the new generations of wireless PDAs (personal digital assistants) now being used mainly by business professionals.

"It's something that we think is needed before use of corporate IM takes off," Gonzalez said.

Instant messaging software has been wildly popular with consumers and--despite some obstacles--has begun to catch on with office workers. In July, 12.7 million office workers used such services from companies including America Online, Yahoo and Microsoft, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

But corporate use of IM has been held back by concerns over interoperability--the products offered by major players including AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo do not generally work with one another. Gonzalez said 2IM doesn't claim to make different IM programs flat-out interoperable, but it does "lower some of those barriers."

As any owner of a wireless device knows, doing two things at once on even the most sophisticated wireless gadget--carrying on two different IM chats, for example--is nearly impossible. Gonzalez said 2IM cuts down on that "pain factor." Corporate IM users will now see all their buddies on one list and can begin messaging with a single click, Gonzalez said.

Air2Web's 2IM is one of a growing number of products meant for companies using the more secure versions of instant messaging from all three major IM makers. Microsoft entered the corporate IM market in November with its MSN Messenger Connect for Enterprises. A week before, AOL unveiled Enterprise AIM, a software package that lets companies set up secure internal IM systems. In October, Yahoo announced it would begin selling its own corporate instant messaging product as part of its enterprise portal business.

Air2Web sells 2IM two ways: Companies can pay $20 per month per user, or they can license the package from Air2Web. Licensing rates begin at $10,000. The 2IM package consists of software, along with a gateway that hooks up to a company's phone system.