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Israeli firm ready for round two of messaging fight

NovaWiz may reignite the instant messaging wars with a new version of its product that interoperates with America Online's ICQ.

A small Israeli firm may reignite the instant messaging wars with a new version of its product that interoperates with America Online's ICQ.

NovaWiz has released Odigo 2.0, Puppet masters: Who controls the  Netthe second version of its instant messaging software. Odigo was one of the first messaging products that let users see other users of the same application who were visiting particular Web sites at a given time, letting them communicate with each other.

AOL quickly seized on that messaging trend, launching a trial version of similar software for ICQ and commencing development of related capabilities for AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

AOL, which acquired ICQ in the summer of 1998, could not be reached for comment.

Between AIM and ICQ, each with tens of millions of registered users, AOL controls the vast majority of instant messaging traffic on the Internet.

Now Odigo is striking back at AOL, borrowing a page from fellow instant messaging challenger Microsoft, which last year picked a months-long fight with AOL by trying to get its MSN Instant Messenger to interoperate with AIM. Microsoft in November finally raised a white flag in that fight.

AOL has skirmished with other instant messaging providers over interoperability, including Tribal Voice and AT&T WorldNet.

So far, however, AOL has held its fire against Odigo.

"They haven't approached us," said Avner Ronen, vice president of strategic development for NovaWiz. "Either they are ignoring it, or (they are) keeping the spirit of the original ICQ, which wouldn't have blocked it."

Avner said that Odigo is just beginning its interoperability campaign. Next in its sights are instant messaging systems provided by Microsoft and Yahoo, as well as an extension of ICQ's interoperability to let Web site visitors using Odigo communicate with visitors using ICQ. Currently, the interoperability extends only to basic messaging capabilities.