America Online Inc. (AOL) has updated its instant messaging service
with an online address book and the ability to send text messages
direct to mobile phones. The move intensifies the competition between
instant messaging service providers, among them Google Inc., Microsoft
Corp. and Yahoo Inc., to multiply the communication technologies and
information services supported by their software.
AIM Triton, released Tuesday, also includes voice and video chat
services and an e-mail client. It is available for free download, and
works with Windows XP and Windows 2000, AOL said.
To help users manage all the new ways of chatting with their friends,
AIM Triton pulls active communications together into a single window,
with a grid listing buddy names along one axis and communication
methods along the other. By clicking on tabs at the edge of the window,
users can switch between conversations or between chat and video.
AIM’s Buddy List contact database has been expanded, and now includes a
link to an online address book hosted by Plaxo Inc. The Buddy List can
store 500 contacts, and the address book 5,000. The address book can
even help buddies stay in touch offline too: a new feature simplifies
the printing of mailing labels, AOL said.
The update also contains a beta version of a video instant messaging
service, a telephony service that can connect to any computer with Web
access, and a VOIP (voice over IP) service that supports conference
calls between up to 20 users, AOL said.
One goal of the new software is to simplify certain tasks performed by
the old version. For example, sharing a file now involves dragging it
to a chat window and dropping it there. Such ease of use could make it
easy for spammers to send unwanted messages or files to many users at
once, so AOL has also incorporated a filtering system called IM Catcher
for messages from unknown senders.
In some respects, AOL is playing catch-up with its competitors. Yahoo
Messenger already offers drag-and-drop sharing of photos, for example,
and has links from its contact list to the Yahoo Address Book, while
Microsoft’s MSN Messenger can send messages directly to cell phones via
SMS (Short Message Service).
By Peter Sayer – IDG News Service (Paris Bureau)