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October 10, 1999

AltaVista Picks Tribal Voice for Instant Messaging

By CBR Staff Writer

By Nick Patience

Tribal Voice Inc has won another major endorsement for its PowWow instant messaging client in the form of an OEM deal with CMGI Inc’s AltaVista portal, ComputerWire has learned. AltaVista’s director of strategy James Anderson confirmed the relationship, but would not speculate on the launch date of the new AltaVista, which reports suggest will be October 25 in New York and which will apparently be backed by a $100m advertising campaign.

Anderson says that CMGI Inc-owned AltaVista chose Tribal Voice because of the quality of its technology and because it enables AltaVista to control its own destiny. That’s because while still trying to build a community around PowWow itself, Tribal Voice is now positioning itself mainly as an OEM technology provider. AltaVista hasn’t decided what to call its version of PowWow yet and Anderson says he cannot confirm that it will be ready in time for the AltaVista re-launch as the company has only just started on the configuration process.

Indeed, Tribal Voice itself is still putting the finishing touches to the new version of PowWow, and the development of what was to be called 4.0 but is now simply going under the codename of Chameleon, has taken a bit longer than anticipated. It was due for early download at the start of September, but is still in alpha right now, with the full release scheduled for the first two weeks of November, according to Beth Nagengast, Tribal Voice’s director of corporate marketing.

Tribal Voice’s key partners at present are AT&T Corp, which re- brands the IM client as IM Here and Freeserve Plc, the UK-based ISP that pioneered the free ISP model in that country. Freeserve will call the next version of PowWow Freeserve Communicator. More partners are due to be announced this week in addition to AltaVista, and they will apparently include some large US ISPs.

The main difference between the forthcoming version and the previous one is the full interoperability between it and America Online’s IM and Microsoft Corp’s Messenger client. Microsoft provided Tribal Voice with its protocols to write to as part of its outreach effort to try and establish its IM client as the de facto standard; or more accurately to try to establish a non- vendor specific standard that everybody can adopt. The Internet Engineering Task Force’s instant messaging and presence protocol (IMPP) working group is the focus of the standardization effort, and while Tribal Voice and Microsoft are involved in the process, AOL and Yahoo have not shown much interest yet.

Tribal Voice was quick enough to grab the protocols AOL posted some months ago before the war erupted between it and Microsoft, which led to AOL repeatedly blocking MSN messages from getting through to AOL members. It has since removed them, making it difficult for other companies to fully support the AOL IM client. The interoperability means that PowWow users will be able to send and receive messages from AOL & MSN users without them having to use the PowWow client. They simply log in to AOL or MSN as normal and add the PowWow user to their buddy list, and vice versa.

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But, and it could be a big one, AOL could still develop a way of detecting that the messages from AOL users are not coming from an AOL client and in theory block them, but Tribal Voice apparently doubts whether AOL will be able to do that. Tribal Voice grays- out the features that AOL and MSN do not offer when choosing to send a message from PowWow to an AOL or MSN user.

PowWow 4.0 or whatever number it ends up having, will offer the ability to do real-time voice chats, text chats – which is different from IM in that all parties can see each other’s typing – and also the ability to send files and URLs. Tribal has also added a search engine consolidator at the bottom of the client, which unlike version 3.0 looks like the ‘traditional’ IM client, rather than a wide interface of before. Obviously licensees such as AltaVista will configure the consolidator to its own search engine partners. Scotts Valley, California-based Tribal Voice was formed in 1994 by John McAfee.

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