IM Interoperability Arrives

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Nov 1, 2006


With the latest production release of its XMPP server product earlier this week, Jive Software added functionality that enables Jabber users to communicate with members of other public instant messaging (IM) networks. While that functionality is something XMPP has always allowed, it's been placed on the back burner as the protocol has developed.

Jabber users can now communicate with members on other public IM networks thanks to Jive Software and the XMPP.

The Jabber project was founded with instant messaging interoperability on its developers' minds. "Transports," which allow Jabber servers to connect with AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ and even IRC users, were part of the original specification for Jabber, and even put forth as a key goal for the project. The community driving development of its underlying protocol (XMPP) has been moving more and more toward establishing it as a standard coequal with others such as SIP/SIMPLE, emphasizing that built-in interoperability less and less.

When Apple launched OS X 10.4 server, for instance, the company included a Jabber server, causing some speculation about whether or not it would include Jabber's transports, and raising some objections from within the Jabber community when it didn't, with Apple instead opting to provide access to Jabber and AIM as parallel, not interoperating, protocols. The Jabber Foundation's Peter Saint-Andre, however, told Instant Messaging Planet "it was never foreseen that [gateways] would be the be-all and end-all of interoperability."

In addition to potential legal concerns about using a Jabber server to communicate with proprietary public servers, Jabber transports introduced their own share of management headaches, running as processes separate from the core Jabber server and providing little in the way of feedback when they crashed.

Jive itself has largely echoed those sentiments in the past, preferring to devote its efforts to building a robust XMPP server and shying away from the licensing required to bring interoperability to its users. Participation in AOL's enterprise federation program, for instance, is rumored to cost companies in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get a seat at the table, and before per-user license costs are figured in.

In an interview with Instant Messaging Planet, Jive CTO Matt Tucker, however, noted that even as the overall focus of many XMPP developers has been toward building the protocol into one ubiquitous enough to warrant a second look from larger players, community and customer demand for the interoperability Jabber's transports provide has remained.

"This is a very practical bridge," he said, a sentiment echoed by Jive Vice President of Marketing Sam Lawrence, who called adding transports to Wildfire "one step among a few things" for the company.

To add the transports, Jive's developers worked with the lead developer for the original Jabber transports, "and built brand new transports as Wildfire plugins. It's an all-new architecture," Tucker said.

The benefits of tighter integration with Wildfire will include easier installation for IT managers and a simpler experience for end users, who have to deal with cumbersome and tedious additions to their contact rosters under the older Jabber transports.

"Because it's running inside of Wildfire, we can just dynamically modify the users' roster. ... It's a much more seamless experience. ... It doesn't feel like a technical hack," said Tucker.

Another concern traditionally associated with Jabber transports has been the willingness of the public IM networks to break their messaging protocols to shake off third party developers, including the Jabber project.

"The good news is that we're much further along on how willing the public networks are to being open," said Tucker. "That game isn't being played anymore. AOL hasn't changed their protocol in years."

He attributed that in part to the presence of a number of third-party applications such as the open source gAIM client, the Windows client Trillian and the Web-based Meebo, all of which have devoted followings. He also noted AOL's own SDK which, while still somewhat restrictive in terms of licensing, "signals what they're trying to do by increasing their openness."

The new transport functionality will take place in stages over the next few point releases. With Wildfire 3.1, expected to be released on October 30, administrators will be able to control which transports are available to end users and edit user contact lists to remove specific contacts from other networks. In later releases, Tucker said the company plans to introduce more fine-grained control, including user- and group-based control of access to transports.

In addition to its new transports, Wildfire 3.1 will sport better LDAP and Active Directory integration, removing the need for administrators to manually edit configuration files. Wildfire's Web interface will include forms that auto-fill pertinent configuration data and execute simple tests to insure communication between the LDAP/AD server and Wildfire.

Jive will include both the new transports and improved LDAP/AD support in Wildfire's open source and enterprise editions, a move both Tucker and Lawrence said was in keeping with Jive's efforts to exist as both an open source community member and company.

According to Lawrence, the company approaches IM "as a business productivity tool. We feel like people should be paying for value that has to do with productivity or adds business intelligence. The real-time communications piece ... getting people up and running and talking to each other ... we believe that should be open to everyone and should be part of the open source edition."

Tucker said the company also keeps an eye out on how commercial open source projects have failed in the past.

"When open source software and commercial distinctions break down and don't work," he said, "is when you arbitrarily hold back features in the open source edition to force people into the commercial edition. You don't want to do that. You want it to be a healthy process where people see very clear value because there are big differences, but the open source is still a complete solution, and it's a viable open source project."

Wildfire 3.1 is scheduled for release on October 30. More information on the open source project is available at http://jivesoftware.org, and information on Jive's commercial endeavors is available at http://jivesoftware.com.

With a new release of its XMPP server product coming up, Jive Software is adding functionality that will allow Jabber users to communicate with members of other public instant messaging (IM) networks. While that functionality is something XMPP has always allowed, it's been placed on the back burner as the protocol has developed.

The Jabber project was founded with instant messaging interoperability on its developers' minds. "Transports," which allow Jabber servers to connect with AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ and even IRC users, were part of the original specification for Jabber, and even put forth as a key goal for the project. The community driving development of its underlying protocol (XMPP) has been moving more and more toward establishing it as a standard coequal with others such as SIP/SIMPLE, emphasizing that built-in interoperability less and less.

When Apple launched OS X 10.4 server, for instance, the company included a Jabber server, causing some speculation about whether or not it would include Jabber's transports, and raising some objections from within the Jabber community when it didn't, with Apple instead opting to provide access to Jabber and AIM as parallel, not interoperating, protocols. The Jabber Foundation's Peter Saint-Andre, however, told Instant Messaging Planet, "it was never foreseen that [gateways] would be the be-all and end-all of interoperability."

In addition to potential legal concerns about using a Jabber server to communicate with proprietary public servers, Jabber transports introduced their own share of management headaches, running as processes separate from the core Jabber server and providing little in the way of feedback when they crashed.

Jive itself has largely echoed those sentiments in the past, preferring to devote its efforts to building a robust XMPP server and shying away from the licensing required to bring interoperability to its users. Participation in AOL's enterprise federation program, for instance, is rumored to cost companies in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get a seat at the table, and before per-user license costs are figured in.

In an interview with Instant Messaging Planet, Jive CTO Matt Tucker, however, noted that even as the overall focus of many XMPP developers has been toward building the protocol into one ubiquitous enough to warrant a second look from larger players, community and customer demand for the interoperability Jabber's transports provide has remained.

"This is a very practical bridge," he said, a sentiment echoed by Jive Vice President of Marketing Sam Lawrence, who called adding transports to Wildfire "one step among a few things" for the company.

To add the transports, Jive's developers worked with the lead developer for the original Jabber transports, "and built brand new transports as Wildfire plugins. It's an all-new architecture," Tucker said.

The benefits of tighter integration with Wildfire will include easier installation for IT managers and a simpler experience for end users, who have to deal with cumbersome and tedious additions to their contact rosters under the older Jabber transports.

"Because it's running inside of Wildfire, we can just dynamically modify the users' roster. ... It's a much more seamless experience. ... It doesn't feel like a technical hack," said Tucker.

Another concern traditionally associated with Jabber transports has been the willingness of the public IM networks to break their messaging protocols to shake off third party developers, including the Jabber project.

"The good news is that we're much further along on how willing the public networks are to being open," said Tucker. "That game isn't being played anymore. AOL hasn't changed their protocol in years."

He attributed that in part to the presence of a number of third-party applications such as the open source gAIM client, the Windows client Trillian and the Web-based Meebo, all of which have devoted followings. He also noted AOL's own SDK which, while still somewhat restrictive in terms of licensing, "signals what they're trying to do by increasing their openness."

The new transport functionality will take place in stages over the next few point releases. With Wildfire 3.1, expected to be released on October 30, administrators will be able to control which transports are available to end users and edit user contact lists to remove specific contacts from other networks. In later releases, Tucker said the company plans to introduce more fine-grained control, including user- and group-based control of access to transports.

In addition to its new transports, Wildfire 3.1 will sport better LDAP and Active Directory integration, removing the need for administrators to manually edit configuration files. Wildfire's Web interface will include forms that auto-fill pertinent configuration data and execute simple tests to insure communication between the LDAP/AD server and Wildfire.

Jive will include both the new transports and improved LDAP/AD support in Wildfire's open source and enterprise editions, a move both Tucker and Lawrence said was in keeping with Jive's efforts to exist as both an open source community member and company.

According to Lawrence, the company approaches IM "as a business productivity tool. We feel like people should be paying for value that has to do with productivity or adds business intelligence. The real-time communications piece ... getting people up and running and talking to each other ... we believe that should be open to everyone and should be part of the open source edition."

Tucker said the company also keeps an eye out on how commercial open source projects have failed in the past.

"When open source software and commercial distinctions break down and don't work," he said, "is when you arbitrarily hold back features in the open source edition to force people into the commercial edition. You don't want to do that. You want it to be a healthy process where people see very clear value because there are big differences, but the open source is still a complete solution, and it's a viable open source project."

More information on Wildfire 3.1 is available at http://jivesoftware.org. Information on Jive's commercial endeavors is available at http://jivesoftware.com.

This article was originally published on Instant Messaging Planet.

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