AOL Connects AIM, ICQ Networks

AOL has followed through on longstanding plans to offering messaging between its AIM and ICQ chat networks with a new alpha version of ICQ Lite. The test release of ICQ Lite features support for AIM and AOL buddies, the final ingredient necessary to achieve IM interoperability.

AOL began preparing for cross-network communication last October when it added support for ICQ users to the AIM client, but messages could not be exchanged until the ICQ client was updated. AOL purchased ICQ from Mirabilis in 1998, but opted to keep the two networks separate for business reasons, according to sources.

Because AOL's instant messaging platform is designed using modular "COOL" components, the restriction for interoperability lies in the client's support for a specific component. A version of AIM released in mid-2000 first showcased this technology by connecting to both ICQ and AOL independently, but could not send messages across networks.

The merger of AIM and ICQ will allow AOL to better compete against MSN and Yahoo! networks, which have slowly chipped away at AOL's IM market share. But with MSN Messenger shipping with Windows XP and Microsoft constantly adding new features to attract users, AOL may be forced to open its network to avoid a mass exodus.

In a recent antitrust settlement with Microsoft, AOL agreed to discuss compatibility between AIM and MSN. In order to enable such interoperability, Microsoft would need to port its MSN protocols to COOL. ICQ was ported to COOL shortly after its acquisition, but had little in the way of features at the time.

Only ICQ Lite currently supports communicating with AIM, but AOL says to "check back soon for new versions" of ICQ Pro and ICQ for Mac. AIM 5.1 or newer is also required. Searching for AOL or AIM users via ICQ is not yet active, but ICQ has created a message board to serve as a user directory.

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