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At least there was one dot-com startup that didn't bust. That new technology from Mirabilis (now known as ICQ.com) spawned imitations from Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo!, and many others. In fact, AOL acquired Mirabilis in 1998 and still gives away the messaging client as ICQ, in addition to its own AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), which has overtaken ICQ in popularity. Instant messaging on the whole has become so widely-used that for many individual users it has taken the place of long-distance telephone calls to family and friends, much like email has arguably obliterated the custom of writing and mailing letters via postal mail.
Likewise, corporate America has caught on to the money and time-saving benefits of instant messaging, with some directing employees to first "IM" contacts before calling to make sure they're available, avoiding wasted long-distance charges, or eliminating those long-distance calls entirely by requiring that conversations take place completely via instant messaging.
Just about all of this IM activity is hosted on public servers set up specifically to handle instant messaging traffic. The servers are, of course, owned by the various companies providing the IM services. All of it is available without charge, so far. But what if the companies decide it is time to start charging?
"It may appear that these IM services are being provided free of cost," says Viswanath Gondi, a Harvard Graduate School of Design student who has provided several Jabber instant messaging servers. "But our data is being locked into these services. Imagine the problems we would face if one day [the proprietary services] would coolly declare IM to be a paid service. All our contacts will be locked in, and it would be impossible to get all the contacts back in again on another free service. We will have to pay up, whatever the cost may be to get uninterrupted service."
For personal users who have amassed hundreds of contacts, having them taken hostage could be quite a nuisance. But for corporations who are depending on services like .NET Messenger Service, losing access to their data could be disastrous.
"It will be very difficult to get out of the problem if public IM service has interwoven with our process flow. It is like having a free Yahoo! mail account for all the employees and finding one day that pop access to the account is being blocked," says Gondi. "One day a company may find all its IM messages blocked/truncated because it did not subscribe to the premium service. Also, all the messages pass through their servers and there is no guaranteed service. So what do we do? We need IM capability in our office, but cannot put in a lot of money to develop or out-source IM server software."
That's where the openness of Jabber comes to the rescue. Because Jabber is an open protocol, no one can ever close it up and take anyone's data or messages hostage. "Jabber is to instant messaging what SMTP is to email," says Gondi. For example, Jabber Inc., which owns the trademark "Jabber" but not the Jabber protocol, is a supporter of the Jabber Open Source effort. Jabber Inc. is using the Jabber protocol to create enterprise-level solutions for companies like HP, Disney Internet Group, BellSouth, and RE/MAX.
The Jabber Software Foundation is working to have the Jabber protocol included in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) collection of RFCs (request for comments). The foundation recently submitted an Internet-draft that outlines in great detail the Jabber protocol. But as of yet, the draft hasn't been accepted as an official document by the IETF.
One of the nice things about Jabber is that it can communicate with other IM systems, in theory, "if the other side is willing to play the game. AOL and recently Yahoo have been blocking connections from other messaging systems," says Gondi.
Jabber, Inc., is sponsoring the upcoming JabberConf Americas 2002 conference dedicated to "accelerating development of the Jabber technology, marketplace, and standards." More information is available at www.jabberconf.com.