Is Microsoft raising white flag in IM battle?

AOL has repeatedly blocked Microsoft's efforts to link its Messenger users with AIM users

Microsoft may be backing off of its much publicised battle to make its instant messaging service work with America Online's version of the increasing popular Internet communications tool -- at least for the time being.

Microsoft officials said Wednesday that the next version of MSN Messenger, due out next week, will likely not work with AOL's Instant Messenger, known as AIM.

"We're evaluating whether we're going to make Messenger interoperable," said Deanna Sanford, product manager for MSN. "AOL is blocking us by exposing a buffer overrun bug in their AIM client. We don't want to expose our users to that security risk. We're evaluating if it's something we can continue to do."

Microsoft's pending decision over whether to continue to pursue interoperability is just the latest chapter in an ongoing battle between the two companies. AOL has repeatedly blocked Microsoft's efforts to link its Messenger users with AIM users, claiming it puts their users at risk and uses AOL resources without authorisation.

"We're happy to hear that Microsoft has decided to respect the security and privacy of our network and our AIM users," said AOL spokesperson Tricia Primrose. "We look forward to working with the industry on the issue of instant messaging."

Both companies are currently involved in discussions with an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) working group to design an instant messaging and presence protocol (IMPP). The group hopes to create a standard that would allow users of different types of instant messaging clients to message each other without a problem, similar to the way e-mail works today. Sanford says the upcoming decision over whether to cease its efforts to break through AOL's attempts to block them does not mean Microsoft will stop participating in the IETF.

"We need to have a standard for IM so that people can communicate frequently over the Net, just like email. We need to get to that point. Since the standards process takes awhile we figured out a way to provide some level of interoperability in the meantime," said Sanford.

What Microsoft calls interoperability, AOL refers to as "hacking." "We're blocking them because they're hacking into our networks and trying to run their service on our network. That is akin to hacking, that's what hackers do. We block hackers and we block Microsoft," said Primrose.

Microsoft says it will make a final decision about whether to continue to try and link up MSN Messenger and AIM in the next few days.