IETF split on instant messaging standard

The Internet Engineering Task Force seems hopelessly split on the issue of instant messaging standardisation.

          The Internet Engineering Task Force seems hopelessly split on the issue of instant messaging standardisation, making it likely that the international standards body will develop several communications protocols and let the market decide which is best.

          At a meeting held in San Diego Dec. 15, the IETF working group on instant messaging backed the idea of a common message format that can be used with different transport protocols. Gateways between the transport protocols would ensure interoperability, which is not possible today among leading instant messaging systems from America Online, Microsoft and others.

          Earlier in the week, various camps within the IETF community debated the merits of three transport protocols that can be used for instant messaging. The three proposed transport protocols are:

          Presence and Instant Messaging (PRIM), a general-purpose protocol that runs directly over TCP/IP and was built from the ground up for instant messaging applications. PRIM is backed by representatives of Fujitsu, Network Projects, MIT and MITRE.

          SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), a telephony-focused approach that uses the Session Initiation Protocol as its communications foundation. Representatives of Microsoft, Dynamicsoft, Level 3 and Media One are backing SIMPLE.

          IMXP, a messaging-focused approach that uses an XML encoding scheme and a novel messaging relay system that can handle presence, instant messaging or other applications. IMXP was developed by start-up Invisible Worlds.

          The SIMPLE and IMXP groups appear to have enough support from the IETF community to move forward with detailed protocol designs, while PRIM has fewer proponents.

          To the disappointment of the IETF community, instant messaging leader AOL has not been involved with any of the three transport protocols or the common message format.

          "I'd be happier if AOL had submitted input to the documents or had commented on any of the documents, but that didn't happen," says Leslie Daigle, co-chair of the IETF instant messaging working group.

          The IETF leadership is expected to decide in January whether to move forward with the common message format and to select which of the three transport protocols will be developed further. New groups should begin work on the transport protocols before the IETF's next meeting in March.

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