AOL launches AIM Pro for business users

AOL targets AIM Pro as tool for secure file sharing and for hosting online meetings

AOL launched a new, free, instant messaging application for business users on Wednesday. AIM Pro Professional Edition integrates with Microsoft Outlook corporate directories and calendars, encrypts messages and scans them for viruses, and offers quick access to business conferencing services from WebEx Communications, the company said.

Around 14 million people already use AIM as a daily business tool, AOL said. With AIM Pro Professional Edition (PE) the company hopes they will see its software as a tool not just for secure instant messaging (IM), but also for secure file sharing or for hosting online meetings with voice, video, and collaborative working tools.

Although there are already enterprise instant messaging tools on the market, such as IBM's Lotus Sametime, most business IM users make do with free tools intended for consumers, AOL said.

AOL faces renewed competition in the enterprise services market. Messaging rival Microsoft announced plans Tuesday to link up with Nortel Networks to integrate instant messaging with traditional telecommunications and conferencing services.

AIM Pro PE is available as a free download from http://www.aol.com/aimpro. It replaces the basic AIM application, and will automatically import contact lists and account information from previous versions, the company said.

Alongside the regular IM functionality, AIM Pro PE adds access to business conferencing services provided by WebEx, allowing users to join voice or video conferences from within the AIM interface. In order to create conferences and collaborative workspaces, though, AIM Pro users need to set up an account with WebEx, which charges from $0.33 per person per minute for the conference, according to that company's Web site. Basic IM communications remain free, AOL said.

As an alternative to the often obscure and quirky screen names that identify users of the consumer AIM service, AIM Pro PE users can also identify themselves using their business e-mail address. From within the AIM Pro interface, users can search corporate directories, check their Outlook calendar, send IM or e-mail messages to contacts listed in the directory or calendar, and access business information or enterprise podcasts, the company said.

AIM Pro PE users can communicate with over 80 million users of IM services on AOL's network, including ICQ and Apple Computer's iChat, the company said. AOL also has agreements that allow it to exchange traffic with users of Microsoft's Live Communications Server and IBM's Lotus Sametime, and other IM services including Jabber, Antepo, and Parlano, it said.

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