AOL and Lycos Become Allies in Instant Messenger War

As the battle for Internet chat dominance grows to a fever pitch, AOL has announced that Lycos, Inc. will be the latest company to distribute a customized version of the AOL Instant Messenger to its many visitors.

The specific terms of the deal were not disclosed.

AOL Builds Its Allies

Instant Messenger is by far the most popular individual chat application being used on the Internet, with about 48 million registered users. Since July, AOL has recruited other Internet service providers to promote the Instant Messenger in an effort to counter the introduction of Microsoft’s MSN Messenger.

AOL has since announced plans to work with Apple to build next-generation instant messaging products. Barry Schuler, president of AOL’s interactive-services group, said the products would be based upon AOL’s software and may well carry Apple’s brand.

AOL has also cut deals with Earthlink Network, Inc. and MindSpring Enterprises to distribute its Instant Messenger to their combined 2.5 million users.

In addition to spreading the use of its Instant Messenger to consumers, AOL came to an agreement with Novell, Inc. to use a co-branded version of AOL’s chat software as a tool targeted at Novell’s business clientele.

The new program will be designed to work with Novell Directory Services, a popular program for controlling user access to resources on a corporate network.

Microsoft Cries Foul

When Microsoft introduced its one-on-one chat software — which allows its users to exchange messages with users of AOL’s service — AOL immediately blocked Microsoft’s access to its servers.

At the same time, AOL also blocked access to its users by Yahoo! Inc. and Prodigy Communications, Inc.

This move caused Microsoft to cry foul and allege that AOL’s defensive measures were hypocritical, since AOL is openly lobbying for open access to cable-television and other networks that hold the majority of broadband assets.

Memory Of Browser War

However, some industry observers feel that AOL is not overreacting to Microsoft’s foray into the Instant Messenger market. They point to the fate of Netscape’s Web browser, which dominated the market until Microsoft began giving away its own version and incorporating it into its Windows operating system.

Some analysts believe that AOL is simply drawing a line in cyberspace and telling Microsoft it can go no further.

Nonetheless, the consensus among experts is that the combatants in the Instant Messenger scrimmage are hurrying to take sides before the real battle begins.

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