Microsoft says it has submitted an open protocol to standardise "buddy list" communications on the Internet.
Buddy lists are applications or services, such as PeopleLink or ICQ, which help people communicate with each other in real time online. Currently, people must be using the same application to exchange real-time messages. A standard protocol would let people communicate regardless of their application, just as users of different email systems can exchange mail today.
Microsoft submitted its specification, called the rendezvous protocol (RVP), to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which has endorsed other online standards, such as POP3 and SMTP for electronic mail, HTTP for text linking, and H.323 for audio- and videoconferencing.
Forty vendors in areas including Internet telephony, videoconferencing, networking hardware and content have endorsed the standard, according to Brent Ethington, lead product manager at the Internet client and collaboration division at Microsoft.
Missing from the list of supporters are Netscape and America Online, who teamed up last month to offer Instant Messenger service, which uses AOL's existing Buddy List to let users know when other Instant Messenger users are online.
According to Ethington, AOL declined to participate and Microsoft was unable to reach Netscape to ask for their participation in time for today's announcement.
An AOL spokeswoman refused to explain the company's disinclination to endorse the RVP spec, but nonetheless maintained that AOL would be an energetic participant in the hammering out of any buddy list standard.
"As it develops and goes through the [standards] process we'll play a very active role in that process," said Wendy Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the Dulles, Virginia-based company.
Microsoft's Ethington said he expects the IETF will move fairly rapidly on the protocol. "I would expect that we'd be able to have vendors start building products around a specification sometime in 1998," he said, though he declined to name the products in which Microsoft might implement the spec.
According to Microsoft, the following companies are among those who have endorsed the RVP specification: 3Com, 8x8, Bandai, Cisco, Infoseek, PeopleLink, PictureTel, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Zydacron.