Jabber numbers overtake ICQ

Jabber says it is making headway in its battle for the emerging corporate IM market

Jabber, the leading proponent of an instant-messaging technology called Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), said it has signed up more than 4 million licensed users, while its total user base has surpassed that of ICQ, the first widely-adopted IM platform.

The growth in commercial users, up 30 percent from the beginning of this year, could help Jabber and XMPP compete for the allegiance of users and software makers in the emerging market for corporate IM. XMPP is competing against not only an array of proprietary IM systems from Yahoo, AOL, MSN and the like, but also the Microsoft-backed SIP (Session Initiation Protocol).

Like XMPP, SIP, and its associated IM protocol SIMPLE (Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions), is being proposed as an open, interoperable standard for business instant-messaging -- with the difference that SIP/SIMPLE has been built into Microsoft's enterprise IM system, Greenwich.

Jabber said that to date it has 100 commercial customers, and expects XMPP to be ratified soon by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) as an Internet standard for instant messaging.

The company also backs an open-source development of the technology via the Jabber Software Foundation (JSF), through which Jabber said more than 215,000 open-source XMPP servers have been deployed, with a total worldwide user base of 7-10 million. That compares favourably to the declining customer base of ICQ, which was used by 6 million people in June, according to ComScore Media Metrix.

ICQ, now owned by AOL, was the first widely-deployed instant messaging system, and rocketed to more than 100 million users in the late 1990s, but usage has fallen off dramatically as customers switch to AOL's own messaging software, which has more than 30 million users.

"Surpassing ICQ is a significant milestone in the acceptance of XMPP worldwide," said JSF executive director Peter Saint-Andre in a statement.

In March, Jabber secured a $7.2m (£4.6m) investment from Intel Capital, which joins France Telecom and Webb Interactive Services as Jabber's main financial benefactors. Intel hopes the investment in Jabber will lead to broader applications for its mobile-chip technology, such as its Centrino-based mobile computers and its mobile phones based on Personal Internet Client Architecture.

CNET News.com's Jim Hu contributed to this report.