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Why is Jabber's open standard important for instant messaging?

By on July 09, 2002 (8:00:00 AM)

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- by Tina Gasperson -
If you use instant messaging clients and you're familiar with the Open Source community, you've probably heard the term "Jabber." It's an open protocol for instant messaging that is similar in function to Yahoo! Messenger, AIM and others. Nice idea, especially if you're an advocate of Free Software and open standards. But other than that, who really cares, especially since none of the popular, tested, reliable IM services cost a penny?
Instant messaging (or IM) began as a natural evolution of the chat rooms made popular by AOL and Compuserve in the early 1990s. It is a way for people to get online, see if their "buddies" are online, and send text messages that immediately appear on the screen, kind of an on-demand, on-the-fly private chat room. In 1996, a company called Mirabilis introduced ICQ ("I seek you"), which was the first instant message service, though they didn't call it that back then. "ICQ will totally change the way people work on and surf the Net," prophesied Sefi Vigiser, president of Mirabilis Ltd., in the original press release. "From now on, every log-in to the Internet is an invitation to a social experience. When logging in, the user will know if his friends and colleagues all over the world are on-line, thus enabling him or her to easily contact them in real time by text, voice or video or any other user-to-user application."

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.

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on Why is Jabber's open standard important for instant messaging?

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What about SIMPLE?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 09, 2002 06:42 PM
The article misses an important point: MS and AOL already agreed to use a common protocol: SIMPLE. Like Jabber, it is an internet draft at the moment, but it should be published in the next few months as a RFC. And even now there are more SIMPLE clients in use than Jabber clients - every MSN messenger, as distributed in WinXP, includes SIMPLE.

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Re:What about SIMPLE?

Posted by: dazk on July 09, 2002 07:10 PM
Even though they agreed on a protocol, will they allow incoming and outgoing messages from other services via SIMPLE? If not what's the point?

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Re:What about SIMPLE?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 10, 2002 05:15 PM
SIMPLE is a decentralized protocol, the way it works is similar to SMTP.

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Re:What about SIMPLE?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 14, 2002 06:55 AM
you are missing the point, SIMPLE allows you to set up a distributed service, but if you do not allow connections outside of your own distributed network, then SIMPLE does not provide any advantage with respect to Jabber.

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Re:What about SIMPLE?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 10, 2002 05:54 AM
They may have "agreed", but I can assure you that they are not all "following" the specification in the same manner. I have experience working with MSN Messenger and such. They don't follow the spec...

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Re:What about SIMPLE?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2002 12:25 AM
Do you have an Internet Draft name or URL?

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Re:What about SIMPLE?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2002 01:52 AM
The comment above reflects the propoganda, but not the reality, of SIMPLE as it exists in the market. AOL has no interoperable IM system, and has no SIMPLE product available or announced. Only a demo was provided in 2001 to satisfy regulatory scrutiny. MS ships SIP with WinXP, but the SIMPLE implementation is not used. Fact is that there is no reference implementation commercially available from anyone for a server to server SIMPLE implementation. Likely this is because SIP, as a well established, connectionless signalling protocol, is not well suited to a persistent IM connection.

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Re:What about SIMPLE?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 11, 2002 02:39 AM
If SIMPLE got anything more than lip service, I'd be shocked. Its talked about and talked up, but there are no implementations. If its really so useful, why hasn't an open source project picked it up? (Please make me eat my words... I haven't actually researched this.)

As soon as Microsoft and AOL have SIMPLE working, *AND* have decided to allow server-to-server via SIMPLE, I'm sure it won't be long until somebody has written a Jabber-to-SIMPLE transport, and then we'll all be happily IMing with our friends on AIM/MSN.

What's the point of all this talk? Stop talking and implement... until then, I'm going to stick to Jabber, since it already has been implemented and is supported on a wide variety of platforms.

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Correction

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 09, 2002 07:56 PM
Strange look on history you have. All IM descends from IRC. ICQ was not the first IM client, there were lots of them at the time, only ICQ (and IRC) were the only ones that prevailed.

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Re:Correction

Posted by: Sergio on July 09, 2002 09:19 PM
Wow, how quickly we forgret good old 'talk' that was available in all unix and some VMS boxes...

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Re:Correction

Posted by: tykeal on July 09, 2002 10:57 PM
Heh, I still use talk from time to time. Must be the fact that I run a server that still has shell access for my customers. *grin*

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Re:Correction

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 10, 2002 08:37 PM
Hey, me too. Talk has this old school feel to it that makes you feel really geeky.

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Re:Correction

Posted by: wicked_knight on July 10, 2002 12:42 AM
off the mark but close. AOL's messenger service ( the internal aol client - not to confuse it with AIM) was created as a value added feature for their members based on talk, not IRC. AIM was created to allow AOL members and non AOL members to communicate , once again a value added feature that would also introduce people to the AOL name ( at that time growing but not with the dominance it has now.)

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Re:Correction

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 10, 2002 02:40 PM
The big difference between the old 'talk' clients and the new 'IM' clients is the joining of the presence and chatting interface. That made a huge difference. A little change in the user interface made Instant Messaging an instant success. This once more proves how important the user interface is. Microsoft also had a lot of features in its Netmeeting but it failed to take off just because of this feature.

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DotGNU endorsement of Jabber Protocols

Posted by: fitzix on July 10, 2002 05:31 AM
In fact, the Jabber protocol is so useful that we at the DotGNU project (http://www.dotgnu.org) have endorsed it's use for webservice transport (along with the use of HTTP).

We specifically have endorsed the use of the protocol itself (to be used in Free Software) and any GNU GPL compatible Free Software based on Jabber.

Jabber may very well reach far beyond Instant Messengers in it's scope.

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Re:DotGNU endorsement of Jabber Protocols

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 10, 2002 06:34 AM
Seems to me you speak about plans, not real implementations.


Does anyone else know working implementations with Jabber in applications other then IM ?


For example, can Jabber be used as a platform similar to JMS (like SwiftMQ? And if it can - what are working examples demonstrating it?


JMS is to heavy (and expensive) for projects with small distributed MOM agents. Jabber seems like a very interesting alternative. But is Jabber used for anything else rather then IM?

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Re:DotGNU endorsement of Jabber Protocols

Posted by: fitzix on July 10, 2002 06:47 AM
"Seems to me you speak about plans, not real implementations."

Like I said, we endorse the protocol itself (which contains a standard transport protocol, amongst other wide-use generic protocols)... The implementation support is largely for usable code and because Instant Messengers can be webservices themsevles, if designed in such a way.

"Does anyone else know working implementations with Jabber in applications other then IM ?"

There are a number of initiatives to do things like mail transfer with Jabber, etc... Not all of them are copyleft. But, the power of the implementations is in their use of the protocol and, hence, can be used as example code for implementing the protocol.

However, yes - the majority of Jabber implementations are IM clients/servers -- I'd say probably 80-90% of all implementations. Of course, Jabber is an IM protocol -- but that doesn't mean that it doesn't generalize to other services.

Yes, I am speaking of plans -- we plan to use it. We have endorsed the use of the protocol in DotGNU projects.

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More info...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 10, 2002 05:32 AM
Kuro5hin had a <A HREF="http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2000/5/18/17042/5662">similar article</a kuro5hin.org> two years ago, in case anyone is looking for a bit more info.

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Cost issue more of a scare tactic

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 10, 2002 06:06 AM
The cost issue is more of a scare tactic. Its a real issue, but not one people are going to take seriously. Why?

Because instant messaging, as I see, isn't taken seriously. If AOL began charging for their service, people will simply continue messaging through email and most likely move to another service.

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Re:Cost issue more of a scare tactic

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 10, 2002 02:55 PM
It's not just the cost factor that is promoting IM in corporate environments. Ease of use (for people sitting in forn tof a comp, they dont have to change appliances), lesser connecting time, constant touch are also a few reasons. Once users get used, it is an inconvinience to get back to the old way, imagine writing a letter through snail main now.
Also there is a huge growth potential in in collaborative environments (something like groove). If presence information is not accessable to all players, we are going to have a BIG problem ance again.

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Windows Implementation of the Jabber server

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 10, 2002 05:20 PM
Yes, there is also a Windows Implementation of the Jabber Server: <A HREF="http://www.tipic.com/">TIMP</a tipic.com> which allows companies using Win2000 Servers to use Jabber and link it up to their MS-Exchange Servers.

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Re:Windows Implementation of the Jabber server

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 12, 2002 09:23 PM
TIMP is rubbish it has a rip off price, and if people wanted to use Instant Messaging with their Exchange Server they would just use the IM built into exchange which can be used in MSN Messenger.
If you want to run a Jabber server on windows then there is a windows port of the JabberD which I use and is perfectly fine, ive tried TIMP and it is rubbish compared to it.

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Re:Windows Implementation of the Jabber server

Posted by: davel on August 02, 2002 03:24 PM
Not sure you've tried it; judging from the <A HREF="http://www.tipic.com/node.php?id=1264">number of companies and individuals</a tipic.com> who are using TIMP you must be wrong.

The flexibility of using Jabber instead of the IM Server that comes with Exchange is great. Jabber is Open and you can use it with any Jabber Client.

Companies and individuals need a sound solution easy to install and manage that integrates seamlessly with other applications.

You are comparing oranges with apples I am afraid, without even having tested the apples, IMHO<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-)

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SIP - Jabber gateway?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 02, 2002 06:39 AM
Is there a gateway available between SIP and Jabber? I am doing some research on Jabber at the University of Colorado at Boulder and would like to like extend the jabber capabilities to include voice and video as well using SIP. Any help will be appreciated.

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