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June 2002
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Instant Messaging Wars

Instant Messaging Wars The instant messenger war just got more interesting.

When Apple Computer Inc. showman-in-chief Steve Jobs recently unveiled "Jaguar," the next upgrade to OS X due in "late summer," he showed a variant of America Online's Instant Messenger. Only the chat program was built into the operating system, still using AOL's messenger server. Add it to Apple's "i" applications--this one's called "iChat."

The software itself wasn't remarkable. Not yet, anyway -- because it's still a work in progress, we'll have to wait a while to see its final form.

What is remarkable is the alliance it hints at. The software is an example of what Microsoft Corp. tried to do -- and failed. The software giant had tried to reach agreement with AOL to gain access to AOL's instant message service, but the online service said no dice -- and Microsoft's MSN messenger is the result. But AOL Time Warner seems to have put aside any objections it may have with Job's love of CD-burning in allying itself with the Mac universe.

So instead of one big, one-standard messenger system, we have a Balkanized world, with many people having multiple messenger accounts and having to remember a bunch of passwords, where one log-on would otherwise do. Otherwise, the two share certain features. In addition to giving you the ability to waste time (and bandwidth) all day, you can send files, see who's online, etc.

Your lawyer's left brain might be thinking, "so what?" But instant messaging is more than something teenagers use. Lawyers are using IM programs, too, zapping messages during depositions to colleagues, receiving feedback from shadow juries -- in short, it's rapidly becoming a substitute for colleagues whispering in your ear during important job-related events.

It'll be interesting to see who wins. In this replay of Internet App Deathmatch, Microsoft is battling a more formidable foe than it did back when it almost killed Netscape off. And we can relish some ironies. Apple's action, integrating software into its operating system, is something that got Microsoft in hot water with the folks at the Antitrust Division. But then again, Apple, with its 5 percent share of the market, is no monopoly.

--Anthony Paonita

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