Rest in Peace, Old Friend
AIM: 1997 — 2017

Replacing AIM

AOL recently announced that it is discontinuing its AIM instant messaging service after a twenty year run. The reaction seemed rather ho-hum. Perhaps in the age of iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger it’s not big news. However, for the many people who use AIM to connect quickly with customers and clients it’s a tsunami.

As we have asked around, we have found that some people believe that can switch from AIM to a different AIM client like Trillian or Pidgin. Those are not alternatives to AIM. Rather, they are user interfaces that handle AIM chats. When AIM servers are gone, so will any AIM function on a messaging client like Trillian.

Instant Messaging 101

Unlike email, which is served up with addresses that point to any server connected anywhere, IM messages move through a single system. You can only send AIM messages to and from the AIM server. AIM is still transmitted through the Internet, but always to the host server. Skype, WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and others all work the same way. They are each their own closed system that only allow messages to move between their users.

There have been efforts to create a universal cross-server IM agreement but they have always failed. To make various IM platforms more user friendly, software like Trillian and Pidgin place themselves between the user and IM services. With an IM client application — I use Trillian — on my desktop, I can have AIM, Facebook Messenger, ICQ or other accounts all in one place. When a message comes in, I don’t even need to know which platform is sending the message. They are all in my IM client contacts. New messages all come into the same window on my screen even if they come from different sources. The client connections are so seamless that it is easy to confuse Trillian, Pidgin, and other IM clients with the IM platforms they serve up.

On December 15, 2017 any of your IM contacts who use an AIM address, including you, will no longer be able to IM. Trillian or Pidgin will still launch, but all of those AIM contacts will go dark.

What to Do?

There are many alternatives, with certain standouts. Skype seems like an easy choice since so many people use it already. However, for Skype IM is a secondary function. Skype is a calling app that will allow instant messaging. Also, since Microsoft has bought Skype, they have adopted typical Redmond isolation. One of their first steps was to remove SkypeKit, the API that allowed clients like Trillian to connect. If you use Skype, you are locked in to their interface for an all-Microsoft-all-the-time experience.

WhatsApp is another alternative. WhatsApp, now owned by Facebook, is primarily a cell phone app with a desktop interface. And it is based on your actual phone number. Road warriors may find the phone-centric application suits them well. For people tied to a desktop it is not ideal. There is an App for MacOS, Windows 8, and Windows 10 (it will load and work on Windows 7, but it’s not supported). However, it is not a stand-alone application. The desktop app must connect constantly to the cell phone hosting it. If WhatsApp is not running on the phone, or if the phone is not present, the desktop app does not work. At this time, there is no client software like Trillian to access WhatsApp. In addition, Facebook owns WhatsApp, so it probably won’t be long until WhatsApp is called back to the mothership.

Facebook really wants you to use Facebook Messenger. If you use Facebook at all, you know they have moved all communications to FB Messenger. If you use Facebook on your phone, it will prompt you to load the FB Messenger app repeatedly until you do, or until you die, whichever comes first. Although Facebook really wants to be your everything, the way they approach that goal makes Facebook Messenger exactly the worst business application. If your business contact buys a new pair of shoes, Facebook will see fit to tell you about it at work. That said, Trillian does support Facebook Messenger and there are third party workarounds to get it into Pidgin.

We’ll Miss Our Friend

On all of these platforms you will only be able to IM other people on the same service. The Benefit of AIM was that so many people used it for so long that everyone had an AIM ID. If you are getting the feeling that there is no single instant messaging application to replace AIM, you are right. AOL is probably shutting down AIM for the very reason it was so widely used. AIM was free. It was a simple platform that did one thing. It did not constantly shill for monetization. AIM didn’t push for more of your personal information to share with the world. Of course, all those things meant it also didn’t make any money for AOL, Time Warner, or Verizon.

Over time, something will emerge as the replacement for AIM users. For now, the best strategy is to find out what your most important contacts plan to do and join them on the new platform. In practice, we will probably all end up with multiple IM platforms if we hope to hold on to the easy, fast communication of AIM.

To that end, Frontier would like to hear from you. Follow this link to a simple one-question survey about your plans for AIM replacement. We will compile the results and share them here. If you share your email, we will send our findings directly to you (and nothing else, I promise).

— ♦ —

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware, enterprise computing support, Peplink SD-WAN routers, and IP communications. Reach us by phone or email, but sadly, not AIM.

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