It's about time that America Online is recognizing the fact that many corporate users actually rely on its instant messenging solution (the same one used by every elementary, middle, and high-schooler), otherwise known as AIM. In what was the first of several such moves, AOL is beta testing a solution that it co-developed with Intellisync called AIM Sync. AIM Sync integrates AIM with Microsoft's Outlook in away that makes Outlook more aware of an AIM participant's Net presence. Although I couldn't get it to work on my system, the idea is for Outlook users to be able to see from either the contact database or an e-mail whether someone is online in AOL's instant messenger and to be able to launch an IM session from within Outlook.
As an anecdotal testimony to its emphasis on the workplace, the domain that hosts the beta software's download page is aimatwork.com. More indicative of its enterprise ambitions, however, is the fact that it's only supporting Outlook 2002 and Outlook 2003, both of which are primarily used in business environments where Microsoft Exchange Server is in use and neither of which are the built-in e-mail client found in Windows. That's Outlook Express and, according to AOL spokesperson Krista Thomas, support for Outlook Express is coming but the company can't say when.
It's good news that AOL is acknowledging the use of its instant messenging client in businesses. For whatever reasons, many of the people I deal with are on AIM, but not on Yahoo Instant Messenger or MSN Messenger (both of which I run in addition to AIM). My chief complaint about AIM is how it natively doesn't allow me to substitute an alias for each of my "buddy's" screen names. For example, instead of having to look at a list of screen names, I'd much rather look at a list of real names. As a result, I sometimes find myself sending instant messages to people with cryptic screen names asking "Who are you?" AOL's Thomas acknowledged that this is a problem that the company is going to rectify in the Spring release of AIM, which will also include a significant facelift and some new features. (She refused to elaborate.) In the meantime, Thomas suggested that the third-party-provided DeadAim plug-in for AIM has an alias feature that should take care of business until AOL builds it in. I haven't tested DeadAim yet.