The march to shared instant messaging took a small detour Monday.
said it will allow users of its Lotus Sametime instant messaging software for large corporations chat online with users of the consumer-focused networks owned by
IBM said it will offer the feature in a version of Sametime that it plans to sell later this year.
, which also offers an IM service, isn't covered by the agreement.
Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM said the 15 million users of Sametime will be able to communicate with friends and family who use AOL, AIM, ICQ,
iChat and Yahoo! Messenger.
The move represents a tiny step toward the oft-mentioned goal of instant messaging interoperability. Some smaller IM players have made gestures in that direction, but for the most part users remain confined to chatting with fellow users of a given network. The move comes as the operators of the IM networks continue to struggle with how to make the popular services generate substantial returns.
Microsoft, the largest software company, and Yahoo!, the most visited Web site, announced in October said that they would allow users of their IM systems to talk with each other. AOL, operator of by far the most widely used system, will allow people on its IM network to communicate with users of Google's less-used Google Talk under terms of the search engine giant's recent $1 billion investment in the company.
Shares of IBM rose 52 cents to $81.88.