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iCast sticks to its guns in instant messaging clash

The CMGI-owned entertainment start-up vows to fight to allow its customers to communicate with AOL Instant Messenger, the latest salvo in an escalating battle over standards and market share.

CMGI-owned iCast is vowing to continue its fight to allow its customers to communicate with America Online's popular Instant Messenger, the latest salvo in an escalating battle over standards and market share.

The online entertainment start-up today said it plans to "reinstate interoperability" with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), according to Bill Golden, an iCast spokesman. Golden declined to comment on how iCast will tap AIM again, but he said access to AOL's instant messaging product will happen in the "near future."

"We are going to create as much awareness to the consumer and the market about the issue and essentially build support for interoperability," Golden said in an interview.

AOL did not return requests for comment.

The move is the latest in an ongoing battle to tap into AIM's market dominance--a fight that has involved a list of high-tech heavyweights, including Microsoft.

Competitors say that AOL should open its popular AIM software to other instant messaging products and work with industry groups to create a communication standard. AOL, meanwhile, has said it will comply with standards bodies but will block any attempts by its competitors, notably Microsoft, to tap into its network of 45 million AIM members. AOL criticized such moves to access its list of customers as "hacks" into its system.

Last summer, AOL blocked attempts by Microsoft, Yahoo and Prodigy to tap AIM users with their own instant messaging products. The move caused a showdown that pitted AOL and its partners against competitors siding with standards bodies.

iCast is the latest company to bring the debate back into the spotlight.

The company's move comes Puppet masters: Who controls the Net a week after it accused AOL of blocking its iCaster media player. iCaster uses instant messaging software called PowWow that was developed by Tribal Voice, which CMGI acquired in December 1999.

On March 1, eight companies, including Microsoft, AltaVista and iCast, requested congressional review of AOL's practices. The group sent a letter to Senate Commerce Committee members to underscore the need for instant messaging standards.

"Our sole concern is with ensuring that all Internet users can enjoy the immense benefits of fully interoperable instant messaging capabilities and avoid the dangers of a Balkanized system," the letter stated.