AOL Launches Free AIM Pro Client

After one month in testing, AOL on Wednesday dropped the beta moniker from its corporate instant messaging client, officially launching AIM Pro. The new client was jointly designed with WebEx and is targeting business users with collaboration features powered by the company.

AOL hopes to ride the growing wave of instant messaging in the enterprise with AIM Pro. The company cites a recent survey by The Radicati Group that says IM has become a key collaboration tool for 135 million workers, with usage expected to soar to over 477 million by 2009.

On the outside, AIM Pro sports a more streamlined user interface and removes the advertising found in AOL's consumer client. AIM Pro "Modules" reside in the bottom of the application, offering tools such as people search through ZoomInfo, headlines from the Wall Street Journal and even business-oriented podcasts.

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But AIM Pro's biggest improvements have been made under the hood, Brian Curry, vice president of Business Services at AOL, told BetaNews. Security has been bolstered with SSL encryption when sending messages between two AIM Pro users. AOL is also offering an automatic virus scanning service, which routes file transfers through the company's network.

AOL is now supporting e-mail addresses as screen names in AIM Pro, a feature requested by business customers. Users can validate their e-mail address and use it in lieu of picking an AOL username.

Audio and video conferencing has also been improved from the standard AIM client using technology from WebEx's MediaTone network. Up to 10 AIM Pro users can participate in a voice chat, although video will be limited to two individuals. AOL expects to introduce 4-way video conferencing in the near future.

WebEx is additionally providing its desktop sharing functionality within AIM Pro. Users can let one other person see their Windows desktop and collaborate with them on projects or give a demonstration. Multi-party desktop sharing will also be delivered as a premium service at a later date, Curry said.

Such collaboration or other meetings can be scheduled directly from AIM Pro's built-in calendar tab. Curry said calendar integration with Outlook was added as "a nice to have feature," but users have found it to be one of the new client's most important additions.

AIM Pro is built atop AOL's new Triton platform under its Open AIM initiative. "WebEx did all the principal client development," Curry explained. "They are the ones that really built this using our SDK."

WebEx is currently beta testing a Business Edition version of AIM Pro that it will offer to customers for a fee. That release includes an administrator toolkit for disabling features, a whitelist to specify certain groups of users that can be messaged, and logging for compliance purposes that will be hosted by WebEx.

AIM Pro will be available Wednesday as a free download from AOL's Web site. The software will connect with AIM, ICQ and Apple iChat users, as well as business-oriented IM clients through the AIM Clearinghouse service.

Although AIM Pro was designed with business users in mind, the company now expects individual consumers to make use of it as well. "One of the things we found out during the course of the beta is that the product really has a broad appeal," said Curry.

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