iThings Considered

Ready, AIM, Fire

Does AOL Have the Right to Refuse Service to Fire Users?

Jake Sargent - 2001.04.03

The introduction of Mac OS X brought along a slew of advances - and new problems. One of my biggest problems was not being able to use AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), a service that I use daily.

Luckily, a handy communication program called Fire has been in circulation since the release of Mac OS X Public Beta. This was the answer to my problems. Starting up Classic every time I wanted to use AOL Instant Messenger was not an appealing picture. After only a few days of using Mac OS X, Fire had became part of my everyday Mac routine.

Unfortunately, America Online has been working against Epicware, the company that created Fire. Last week, AOL refused service to all Fire users. Any AIM user who tried to logon using Fire received the following message:

You have been disconnected from the AOL Instant Message Service (SM) for accessing the AOL network using unauthorized software. To download a FREE, fully featured, and authorized client, click here.

Also last week, Epicware officially removed AIM support from Fire.

Does AOL have the right to stop Fire users from using its service? And now that a preview of the official AIM Client is out for Mac OS X, who wins when it goes face to face with Fire?

There are two ways to look at the ongoing dilemma between Fire and AOL: from the user's point of view, and from the businessman's point of view.

Let's start by looking at it from the user's point of view. As an AIM user, I expect two things: fast, efficient service, and support for the latest technologies. AOL has always provided fast and efficient service, but it's support for the latest technologies is its shortcoming. If AOL can't provide support for Mac OS X, and Fire can, than it's not fair to block Fire users until AOL comes out with its own Mac OS X instant messenger client (which it recently has). It's AOL's fault for not being up-to-date on the latest technologies, and it's hard to justify not supporting Fire when all Fire is trying to do is save AOL from humiliation by not having an instant messenger ready in time for the release of OS X.

From the businessman's point of view, you have to realize that running an instant messenger service costs a lot of money, and AOL provides it for free. The ads and links in the official AOL Instant Messenger Client help AOL pay for service costs and perhaps throw a bit of profit in, too. Fire never showed AOL's ads, so by having people use Fire instead of AIM, AOL was losing money because more people were using its service than seeing its ads.

As for which client is better, I think it really depends on your preferences and needs. Fire is the preferred choice if you use more than one instant messaging service (because it supports multiple services) or want to support a company that is all behind the Mac platform. For those who only use AIM, Fire's multiple messenger support could be a con rather than a pro (for it would be full of unneeded features).

The number of services each client can handle aside, they both have their own pros and cons. Fire is more customizable and doesn't show any ads, while AIM offers what I think is a more organized interface along with stock quotes, news, and email access.

I think it was wrong of AOL to block Fire users before a Mac OS X compatible AIM Client was released, and the best solution to this problem would be for the two companies to make some sort of compromise which allowed Fire users to access the AOL servers in exchange for modifying the Fire client to meet AOL criteria.

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