Sun Microsystems announced its position in the instant messaging (IM) protocol debate with its inclusion of the Jabber protocol in the latest version of the Java System Instant Messaging application.
Officials at the Santa Clara, Calif., software company said version 7 of the IM platform now supports the extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) (define) , often called the Jabber protocol because of its association with the open source instant messaging client.
Some heavyweight software developers, notably IBM and Microsoft , have come down in support for a competing specification called the Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE) (define) .
Marcel Nienhuis, market analyst at the Radicati Group, said Sun’s backing of the XMPP specification makes sense and evens out the playing field between the two competing protocols, where SIMPLE is seen to have more corporate backing. Sun’s decision to support XMPP, he said, also falls in line with the company’s position as stewards of the Java platform.
“Sun’s whole message is open source and open systems, so it makes sense for them to use the XMPP protocol,” he said.
Dan Graves, Sun group product manager for collaboration products, downplayed that contention and said the decision to adopt XMPP was made primarily from a features standpoint and in no way represents a decision to favor one IM protocol over the other. Sun, he said, plans to address SIMPLE in the future.
For the three years leading up to the launch of Java System IM 7, Graves said the company used a home-brewed protocol as a foundation for its service before deciding to adopt one XMPP or SIMPLE. An analysis of the two specifications found that XMPP was a better fit for Sun’s platform and its customers right now, he said, with more third-party application adoption.
“The XMPP protocol was designed from the ground up to cover instant messaging and collaboration, so it’s a lot broader and more complete in terms of covering all the things you need to do, such that we can be full standards-compliant and get full interoperability with other products,” he said. “As opposed to SIMPLE, [where] companies have to extend it in various different ways; those extensions end up not being interoperable, so you end up with a situation where somebody’s flavor of SIMPLE doesn’t interoperate with another vendor.”
According to Graves, Sun’s customer base includes approximately five to 10 million users under roughly 100 organizations.
With the inclusion of the Jabber protocol, Sun opens its Java Communications Suite to other XMPP-based systems looking to interoperate their features on the IM platform. Officials say XMPP support offers cost savings for their customers by expanding IM and presence functionality through open source and third-party software applications.
They point to Clique Communications, developer of a video communication and collaboration tool application for mobile and landline networks, which will work on making its product interoperable with Sun’s IM platform.
Enterprise IM is a topic of growing concern for companies worried about communications between employees and the outside world, not the least of which is exacerbated by federal regulatory scrutiny on document and communications control.
An October 2004 report by Radicati found that 76 percent of organizations have not deployed a formal IM solution, a number that Nienhuis said hasn’t changed much in the ensuing months.
Those surveyed that were using IM systems were using public ones like AOL’s AIM service, Yahoo or Microsoft’s MSN Messenger.
Plans by AIM and Yahoo to create secure enterprise versions of their consumer systems have fallen by the wayside; Microsoft’s enterprise IM solution falls under its Live Communications Server.
Enterprise use of the consumer systems, Nienhuis said, leaves them vulnerable to a growing number of nuisances like worms and spim (define) and phishing (define) attempts.
“There have been all sorts of security problems with those products,” he said. “I think what’s happening is companies are looking more and more into the enterprise systems and into securing their own public IM networks with [IM management companies] like IMLogic, Akonix and FaceTime.”