AOL tests open source Jabber for instant messenging

A lot of AIM and ICQ instant messaging users have likely never even heard of "Jabber" yet. But they'll probably be Jabbering away in the not too distant future, after the bugs get worked out by a new AOL/ICQ test launch.

If you're an instant messaging user (and who isn't, these days?), you'll soon be able to talk to your AIM/ICQ contacts using an open standards technology loosely referred to as Jabber, assuming that a new AOL/ICQ test launch that started this week shows enough success.

What's more, you should be able to do so using conventional AIM or ICQ client software, instead of necessarily resorting to freeware clients now being offered by Google and the Gizmo Project, or to other clients with exotic names like Psi, iChat, and Pidgin.

Actually, Jabber technology got started back in 1998, resulting in the release of an open source server called "jabberd." The actual Jabber protocol eventually evolved into an IETF standard dubbed XMPP (eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol). But if you just use the word Jabber, fans of any of these related technologies will know what you mean.

But why bother with Jabber (or with XMPP), anyway, when you can already get free IM client software through AOL and Trillian, for instance? Well, XMPP might not be for everyone, especially at this stage in the game.

But essentially, beyond using "open" as opposed to "proprietary" technologies, XMPP offers some important practical advantages around IM addressing and prioritization, according to its advocates.

Every user on the Jabber network gets a unique Jabber ID (JID) which is structured a lot like an e-mail address. You can also log in from multiple locations -- such as mobile, home, and work -- and you can ask the Jabber server to prioritize IMs so that some go only to your "mobile" location, for example.

Also, unlike services such as the traditional AIM and MSN Messenger, the Jabber IM network is decentralized, with no central "authoritative server." Therefore, anyone can run a Jabber server, setting up "locations" and prioritizing to which locations various IM messages will go.

Right now, the software in the AOL/ICQ test server is still buggy, according to Florian Jensen's Weblog. Jensen also includes a link to a discussion of the test at the Jdev MUC room.

IM'd one tester: "Let's give AOL guys huge thumbs up!"

Jabber fans also claim many advantages for XMPP over a competing protocol called SIMPLE (Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions), which has gained a lot more mainstream acceptance up to now.

Basically, XMPP proponents say this protocol is better because it was built from the ground up to handle IM and "presence," or location awareness.

But SIMPLE advocates counter that their protocol is capable of dealing well not just with IM, but also with voice, video, and conferencing technologies.

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