IM Profits for VARs

VARs should learn from their teenaged children and get on board the Instant messaging (IM) train. IM can solve a lot of problems as enterprise IT managers look for ways to clear out spam-filled email boxes, integrate far-flung project teams, and offer more productive uses of their communications infrastructure. With IM, corporate staff can multitask and carry on multiple conversations, find out if someone is available to answer a quick question, and other tasks that are cumbersome to do with emails and phone calls. VARs that aren’t yet facile with IM should get more involved in this technology and understand the numerous integration opportunities that IM offers.

There are several trends to take note of, and ways that VARs can leverage IM solutions:

First, IM is becoming more of an open systems play. IBM’s SameTime is now based on open source Eclipse software and offers more plug-in features that VARs can use to provide presence information such as when someone is busy, on the phone, or at their desk and available. “IBM has worked with the Google Maps API so you can highlight everyone on your buddy list and show where they are currently located on the map,” says Chris Miller of Connectria, a St. Louis messaging integrator. Miller also has clients that have taken open source code integrations with their directory servers to show the organizational hierarchy of their IM buddies. “This cuts down the time they have needed to find someone for a particular job,” he says.

The Jabber Software Foundation has also widened IM open source opportunities, and many VARs have jumped in with selling IM servers and add-on features based on these protocols. Jabber Inc. is a separate private company that sells its own IM server appliance, which can be a good starting point for system integrators that want to deploy their own enterprise IM solutions. “What Jabber has pioneered is the ability for interoperability, so you can use IM like your e-mail system,” says Ashley Roach, a server product manager at Denver-based Jabber Inc.

Second, IM networks are getting interconnected. The major public IM suppliers such as America Online, Yahoo, Microsoft’s MSN, and Google Talk all have connections to each other now, so that users on one system can chat with others without too much trouble. And the private IM suppliers such as Microsoft’s Live Communications Server and IBM’s SameTime both offer connections to various public IM networks. This means that corporations can use IM to communicate with their customers and get replies even faster than emails. Email is woefully inadequate for guaranteed message delivery, and clumsy when it comes to conducting business in real time.

For these reasons, IM networks have become more mission-critical, which translates into more opportunities for VARs. Two big ones are storage management, for archiving messages, and compliance for SOX and other corporate governance that requires auditing client conversations. “The financial sector has the biggest motivation for archiving and maintaining their IM records. And healthcare and energy are right behind financial and coming on strong,” says Arsenio Batoy, president of Optical Laser, in Huntington Beach CA and another IM distributor. “Archiving IM messages should be a part of every IT and HR policy that addresses archiving email messages. There is a pretty good business practice there and you have the opportunity to sell lots of professional services and go beyond just selling Exchange mailboxes.”

Third, IM is going beyond user-to-user communications, and now being implemented for one-to-many communications such as between applications and users. As an example, an overloaded router or a critical server goes down, software is written to automatically notify the help desk. In the old days, IT support personnel used to rely on pagers for getting this information, now more sophisticated messages can be sent over IM networks. There are a number of VARs that are active here deploying SameTime, Microsoft LCS, and Jabber-based solutions.

Finally, with increasing IM traffic comes increased need to protect IM networks and prevent this medium from becoming yet another virus and malware transmission vector, and several vendors such as FaceTime Communications, Akonix, and Symantec have beefed up their partner programs to work with VARs to deploy these solutions.

“The deployment opportunities are endless,” says Miller. “The tools are out there and there are ways to add your own branding to the IM software as well as provide back-end integration and add presence detection into many legacy systems.”

Cisco’s Internet Protocol Journal:

Instant Messaging (IM) has come of age and is close to becoming one of those protocols that offers something for everyone. Once the province of chatty teens looking to replace phone conversations with electronic ones, IM is now a corporate mainstay and part of a new breed of applications that are built around “presence detection,” the ability to determine when someone—or something—is online and available to communicate.

Indeed, IM is rapidly spreading across the corporate world and becoming an able replacement for overflowing voicemail and e-mail inboxes that are clogged with spam and buried in irrelevant and non-time-sensitive postings. If you must get through to a busy corporate executive, IM is becoming the fastest and most effective method of communicating. Move over CrackBerry.

You can read the rest of my article that was published in Cisco’s IPJ here from their archives.

AOLfree: You’ve Got Problems!

I haven’t run AOL software since about the time in the late 1990s when Marshall Rose and I were writing our book on Internet Messaging together. We wanted to call the book “You’ve Got Mail” but that is a story for another day. So when AOL announced last week that they were migrating to a free service for those of us that didn’t need their dialup connections any more (dialup? Who uses dialup?) I had to try it out.

Boy, did I enter the wayback machine, Mr. Peabody. Before I knew what was going on, my hard disk had filled up with AOL bloatware. I count the following programs now installed care of Time Warner:

AOL Coach, AOL Connection Services, AOL Deskbar, AOL Spyware Protector, AOL IE Toolbar, AOL You’ve Got Pictures screensaver, Real’s Player, QuickTime, and AOL Computer Check Up. Not to mention the AOL Uninstaller, which only uninstalls one of the above programs. As my friend Barry Gerber would say, who designed this crap?

The AOLfree version faithfully replicates the AOL paid experience: you have AOL IM, a browser to AOL’s portal (when was the last time you needed to check that page?), and of course, AOL email (if you can find a series of characters and numbers that no one else has already grabbed). But why would anyone want to do this? The days of a “walled garden” — as AOL once called its portal — are long over, and most people use whatever email and browser they want these days.

However, there are a couple of things that it doesn’t do, things that parents should know. One of the most useful things of a real AOL account was the ability to set children’s access to content and how they would use their IM and email accounts. While most teens these days know more than parents and how to get around these blocks, the pre-teen set can benefit from these controls. The AOLfree universe is completely free of parental controls.

But if you are still using AOL and don’t have youngsters around, you want to get off the AOL bus now. This is why their phone lines are being clogged with users who want out of their monthly AOL tax on their Internet access. BTW, the number to call is 1-888-265-8008 and operators are standing by 24/7. I will save you the trouble of looking it up on, which isn’t the easiest thing to find. And don’t get me started on how much of a maze AOLhelp online is. There are so many blind alleys on their Web site that any noob trying to figure this out isn’t going to get very far. Clearly, they are working on their site. (When I went under AOLhelp, account questions, price plans AOL offers; I got “We’re sorry, currently there are no available documents for this section.” Oops.)

Yes, there are some semi-useful tools, such as AOL Computer Check Up, which scans and attempts to fix your hard disk for things that are wrong with it, but there are better programs around for free, including from my friend Dave Methvin. And there is its Spyware blocker, but after installing all these other AOL thingies I am not sure that I can find the blocker among all my desktop clutter anymore. And why, pray tell, do I need both Real and QuickTime players on my machine? Certainly, one would be enough to play all that video content that AOL now is streaming at me, including the intro video with the cute blonde showing me what the software does, which is almost worth the entire hassle of installing and uninstalling AOLfree.

No, this is one piece of freeware that you get exactly what you pay for: a mish-mash of second-rate software, all so that you can have a “vanity” AOL email address to indicate to the rest of the world that you continue to be a clueless noob. Glenn Fleishman writes equally harsh language in this week’s newsletter:

AOL’s software still stinks. AOL’s email filtering is highly erratic. Any of us who run mailing lists are familiar with suddenly having all of our double opt-in, fully approved AOL users bounce our email for some obscure reason that’s impossible to address directly with AOL.

AOLfree is just another in piece of their software that continues to annoy me. I wrote a short review of their latest AIM Pro IM client for Computerworld that you can read here.

When I wrote that piece I got a few emails from people within AOL that wanted to talk to me. They didn’t provide phone numbers, and I assumed they were product managers so I emailed them back, saying I welcome a dialog. Never heard another peep out of them. Perhaps they didn’t receive my message — but this is just another indication of how hard it is to deal with the company. I think we can say that the merger with Time Warner has been successful at reverse cherry-picking the aspects of two dysfunctional corporate cultures and creating a worst-of-breed new media company.

AOL has done a terrific job of getting noobs on the Net, and providing an IM service for teens that is now being used by many businesses. But their software efforts suffer from coming from a large corporation that has lost its will to be an innovator. There isn’t any reason to use AOLfree. If you still have as your domain, it is time to consider other alternatives, like Google, Earthlink, and hundreds of other places that will do a better job.

How to build your own corporate IM system

Corporate IT managers who haven’t gotten on board with instant messaging need to start paying attention and evaluating how they will design their own IM systems. Before you dive into the world of IM, there are three basic strategies you will want to consider:

First, deploying one of the various IM blocking and monitoring products to prevent any unauthorized public IM use. Second, using software from Microsoft Corp. or IBM’s Lotus, the major private IM system vendors. Finally, building your own IM system using a variety of open sources.
These three strategies aren’t mutually exclusive, so you might want to mix and match.

You can read the article in Computerworld here.

AIM Pro — Still in the amateur leagues

Last week AOL released a new business-oriented IM client called AIM Pro. (You can download it for free from The client offers some interesting features, however, it is only available for Windows. While it is nice to see AOL thinking about business IM use, AIM Pro doesn’t come close to delivering a competitive offering that Microsoft and Lotus have with their private IM networks and LCS and Sametime clients.

You can read my review in Computerworld here.

How Instant Messaging Is Transforming the Enterprise Network

I continue to publish articles about the intersection of IM and corporate networks. The latest piece appears this month in Cisco’s Internet Protocol Journal and discusses the evolution of IM from the protocol perspective. I compare the largest public IM operators with the XMPP approaches, and talk about how the various pieces fit together and what protocols they use to communicate.

The Changing face of IM in the Enterprise

IM has come of age in the past few years. No longer just the province of chatty teens, it is now part and parcel to many corporations’ advanced communications networks. And as IM takes hold across the enterprise, companies are finding new productivity gains and improvements in customer response time as benefits.

Now, the generation of office workers that grew up with IM has gained control. IM has become the new black, the latest trend to take over IT. And in the process, IM is remaking how the corporate world converses and serving as the basis for a new series of communication applications.

I look at the reasons for IM’s popularity and its future in the enterprise, along with some examples of what people are using it for besides text chats.

You can read the entire New York Times article if you are registered here. I’ll be writing a lot more about IM in the coming months, including another piece for the Times about mobile Skype products.

Guide to SMS and Texting Addresses

As a public service, here is a guide to sending text messages between various phone network providers. Please don’t send this to my niece! Thanks to Dave Nathanson for collecting these.

AT&T Wireless
(your number)

(your number)

(your number)

(your number)

(your number)

(your number)
(if you set up a name, it is

(your number)

IM Interoperability Status Report

Today, the instant messenger world is about where the email world was in the early 1990s. For those of you not around then, MCIMail became one of the first private email companies to connect to the Internet and offer the means to bridge incompatible systems. Then the flood started, and eventually the TCP/IP and POP worlds became the default and no one cared about proprietary systems.

Now Vint Cerf is with Google, and MCIMail (his former home and pet project) is largely forgotten. With the advent of Jabber-based XMPP messaging systems (here is a complete list), and with the work of Apple, IBM, and others, we are now seeing software that can connect multiple IM systems, although it still is pretty crude. The issue is more than just the protocol, you need federated identity between disparate systems to make this all work.

I looked at five products that are available on Windows clients (Google Talk, Gizmo Project, AIM, Skype and Trillian Pro), along with Apple’s iChat. Three of the Windows products are also available on other platforms. All do basic chat or text messages from person to person. Some offer audio and video conferencing features, whereby you can connect multiple people on the same line. Two offer the built-in ability to record your text chats and also record your audio conversations, which are useful for assembling podcasts. And two also offer voicemail systems, so when you are away from your computer you can still receive audio messages.

Just as we were with email in the early 1990s, there are three commercial IM systems that don’t really connect with each other: AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Then Trillian came along a few years ago and produced a single client that allowed you to chat with all three, along with ICQ. Then came Skype, which set things back as its own communications island, but moved chat into a features war with lots of enhancements, including voice conferencing and dial in/dial out features. And now we have all the jabbering Jabber clients, including Gizmo Project, which takes most of Skype’s features a step further but is notably missing file transfer.

Eventually, I will add more to this grid, but this should whet your appetite for what you can do. You can find the page here on my site