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Presence Meets Collaboration On The Conferencing Front

The integration of collaboration and presence technologies continues to fascinate me for two reasons. First, because it all makes so darn much sense. I mean you can work with a virtual room full of people from your PC in Timbuktu or down the hall. Presence capabilities take the remoteness out of remote collaboration.

And the other reason it's fascinating is because the enabling technology is all available, but it requires vendors and service providers to work together to integrate and provision it, so it's been slow to happen.

So when the key players start playing together, it starts to get very interesting. That's what happened this week when America Online Inc. and WebEx Communications Inc. teamed up to offer a version of the AIM client with the WebEx collaboration and conferencing tools built in.

The intent is to deliver the AIM Pro version of the instant messaging client for business users in a hosted fashion with the full WebEx collaboration suite available from the AIM interface, according to Brian Curry, AOL's vice president of Premium and Subscription Services.

That means business users can use their IM client to initiate online conferencing, calendar sharing, desktop sharing, audio and video conferencing, multimedia presentations, webinars, online training, remote support, etc., in a addition to the instant messaging features of AIM.

The other piece of good news is that AIM Pro users will have access to all the participating IM federation networks that AOL works with, including IBM/Lotus users, so your base of collaboration contacts is larger than the AIM universe.AIM Pro will not be free like the traditional AIM client. Sometime in Q2, you will be able to go to the AOL Web site and download a subscription version of AIM Pro with security features built in.

In addition, for larger enterprises, AOL and WebEx will offer an enterprise instant messaging (EIM) edition with centralized administrative controls like activity monitoring and logging capabilities.

The base client will come with encrypted conferencing, calendar and desktop sharing built in, but those conferencing capabilities will be limited to one-on-one collaboration, according to David Knight, WebEx vice president, product management. For those users that have a host account with WebEx, the full multi-user meeting capabilities will be available.

I hope to see more deals like this. Like I said, the underlying technology has been available for some time. In fact, this is WebEx's second try at putting something like this together. A couple years ago, WebEx had a deal in place to integrate its WebEx Meeting Center with the short-lived Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition. But Yahoo closed its enterprise software division before the integration came to fruition.

Here's to better luck this time around.