18 Jan 2008

AOL Adopts XMPP for Instant Messaging

As has been widely reported and discussed by now, AOL seems poised to switch its IM network from the proprietary OSCAR protocol to the open XMPP. The biggest piece of evidence is that they are running a test server, xmpp.oscar.aol.com, which is accepting XMPP connections and allows users to log in using their AIM ID.

If they move forward with XMPP, it would be a major step forward for both interoperability and open standards. The amount of time and effort which has been wasted as a result of the IM networks’ use of proprietary protocols is simply staggering. Were it not for mutual incompatibility, all the effort directed at making third-party clients like Adium and Pidgin work with various and sundry protocols could have been spent actually making them into better communications tools from the user’s perspective.

There are still a few steps which need to happen before AOL’s XMPP effort can be considered useful. First, they need to connect it to the rest of the AIM servers, so that users connecting through XMPP can connect to users connected using legacy clients via OSCAR. Second, they need to enable XMPP server-to-server connections, so that users can talk with other networks. Once that happens, it’ll be curtains for OSCAR. (Not immediately, of course – there are lots of people out there still using old client programs and presumably happy with them, but when they eventually update it’ll be to XMPP.)

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