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AOL opens messaging to enterprise developers

It's scrapped direct sales of its IM software to businesses, but AOL authorizes tools to let others do some tinkering.

America Online on Tuesday said it will allow two new companies to develop enterprise software applications using its popular AOL Instant Messenger service.

The online giant said FaceTime Communications and Akonix will be able to incorporate AIM's instant messaging and online presence technology into its products. The companies also will sell AIM's application programming interface (API) to businesses that wish to develop their own IM and presence features.

IMLogic struck a similar deal with AOL in February, and already about 100 companies are using its software to develop their own AIM applications, the company said.

Tuesday's announcement highlights AOL's new strategy of selling AIM technology to corporate customers. The company used to sell AIM directly to corporations, but it scrapped the business in June. AOL and Web portal Yahoo at that time both exited direct enterprise sales to instead focus their attention on their consumer-based services.

Now, however, AOL is signing licensing deals with other companies to sell AIM to businesses. In July, AOL joined Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN division to connect their free IM products to Live Communications Server (LCS), Microsoft's enterprise IM software. Microsoft hopes LCS will eventually power companies' internal Internet communications including voice and video conferencing.

This is not the first time that AOL has opened AIM's APIs to other developers. In November 2003, AOL struck a similar deal with software company Macromedia. Under that agreement, developers of Macromedia's Flash animation technology can imbed AIM's real-time communications features into their products.

FaceTime and Akonix will package AIM's APIs into their own products, sell the entire development kit to their corporate customers, and "build IM applications inside a company," Brian Curry, senior director for AIM network services, said in an interview.

Other uses could include information retrieval. For instance, if a salesman is out meeting with clients and needs competitive information, companies can create applications to retrieve data through internal IM networks to prepare for a sales pitch.