AOL Adds Presence to Outlook

The AOL Running Man is making its presence known to users of Microsoft's Outlook. America Online will soon publicly unveil a beta that deepens AOL's commitment to provide customers with open e-mail access.

Called AIM Sync by Intellisync, the service integrates AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) presence awareness into Outlook contacts. Reciprocally, the software will provide users with the option of adding Outlook contacts to their Buddy List.

AOL tells BetaNews it is working out the final technical details and expects to launch the beta in the coming days.

Like Microsoft's Windows Messenger before it, AIM Sync comes out like gang-busters from the world of real time communications into the universe of e-mail clients, allowing users of Outlook 2002 and 2003 to see when friends, family or coworkers are online. Contacts that run AIM Sync are added to the Recent Buddies list in AIM 5.9 (or above) at a limit of 210 Screen Names minus the Buddy List. Users can also manually add contacts to their Buddy List by Screen Name or mobile telephone number.

The Running Man is exposed in the address fields of e-mails as well as the contacts view in Outlook.

In order to encourage its installed base of millions of AIM users to participate in the new service, AOL has borrowed the viral marketing page from the Plaxo playbook. BetaNews has learned that AIM Sync users can send others invitations to participate in the service. That said, some of the invitees will have to be party poopers: AOL discourages its enterprise customers from downloading and using the beta as it is primarily intended for home users.

Commenting on AOL's directions with AIM Sync, Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst with Jupiter Research, told BetaNews that the product was much more than a simple plug-in for Outlook. "Microsoft mastered the Web by taking features like e-mail, and more recently instant messaging, and bringing it into Office. Remember, that in the early days of the browser wars, e-mail was either a separate application or part of a Web browser," said Wilcox.

"AIM's Sync is one way AOL is taking messaging back, by bringing presence to Outlook and offering the user the immediacy of IM over e-mail. The messaging takes place on AOL turf, whether AIM or the bigger online client," concluded Wilcox.

Links to download AIM Sync will be available on the AIM.com and AIMatWork.com Web sites once the beta launches. AIM Sync is a free service.

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