AOL releases new Instant Messenger

AOL's new IM client is heavy on the features.

America Online has released a new version of its Instant Messaging software with such features as stock tickers and graphics transfers.

While AOL said it has been working on the upgrade for several months, the release neatly counters moves made by Microsoft in the companies' ongoing war over instant messaging. Microsoft's MSN Messenger program was released last month, adding new features and -- more importantly -- a way for non-AOL users to contact users of AOL Instant Messenger.

That move prompted back-and-forth moves by the two companies, with AOL repeatedly attempting to block Microsoft's software from connecting to its servers. Both companies have also been accused of introducing security flaws into their services in their attempts to combat one another.

Microsoft has said that AOL should open up its protocols to the public, a move AOL has resisted. AOL did say it would work with a standards body to develop a protocol for interoperability. The protocol, being developed by a committee within the Internet Engineering Task Force, is almost ready to be released. A draft of the proposal has been posted online in preparation for a Request for Comments period.

While the IETF may produce its own protocol, AOL dominates the market, and many analysts have said that AOL's agreement is necessary for interoperability to truly take off.

AOL said Tuesday that it has around 45 million subscribers for the AIM service. Microsoft recently said it has signed up 1.3 million subscribers and has agreed to publish its protocols in an effort to make its system interoperable with other instant messaging programs. AOL, meanwhile, has agreed to allow several Internet service providers to ship co-branded versions of its service.

But while the companies battle it out online and through their PR departments, AOL is making sure it doesn't lose any ground in the features arena.

The new version of AOL's service, available for download today, offers features that let users watch continuously updated news and stock quotes. It also includes the ability to send and receive graphics. Another new feature will allow users to choose a screen name that is up to 16 characters in length. The company will also help users set AIM as their default messaging program.

AOL Chief Operating Officer Bob Pittman said in a release that the new software was designed to make the software "easier to use and more convenient". He said the company will roll out additional features over the coming months "to ensure that AIM continues to be the most valuable instant messaging product in cyberspace".

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