I remember quite well some years ago when slowly getting into both GNU/Linux and „the internet“ as a whole bunch of interesting technologies and means of communication, I struggled quite a lot to get a really working, free-as-in-free-speech client for ICQ instant messaging system up and running. Some years later, this has changed drastically; now bunches of good, free clients are available for ICQ same as other instant messaging services, like AOL’s AIM-Service, the Yahoo! Messenger and even the infamous Microsoft Messenger that comes bundled with pretty every installation of MS Windows. So far, so good?
No, not at all. On one side, though by now it all somehow works out, I am not at all amazed by the idea of running communication through any sort of proprietary messaging system. More often than just once, by now it happened that companies like ICQ changed the protocol used by their clients, virtually rendering all existing yet free clients unusable within the wink of an eye. This is not really a good thing. Even worse, packages like the official ICQ client or AOL’s AIM software in most cases is not just installing communication software but at least adware, if not mal- or spyware (which, in the case of AIM, now led to the creation of boycottaim website/campaing „aim“ing at making users aware of the dangers of the „official“ AOL client and pointing way to free alternatives which also are (at the moment) capable of connecting to AOL).
Even worse, however, there probably is another threat to „free“ IM, overally: Skype. Starting out as software for „free“ internet-based telephony, skpye also includes a text-based instant messaging / chat component. And, also starting out as proprietary software with having things like „patents“ and „intellectual property“ written all over it, there is yet no „free-as-in-free-speech“ client available for skype, not even talking about an open, standardized communication protocol.
Anyhow, there is no one really forcing you to use skype or aim so why worry? Because most people don’t care. Because people merrily installing and using free-as-in-free-beer software even if this way locking themselves up in proprietary communication technology (thus being at the mercy of its manufacturer) still way outnumber those who care, use and promote open technologies like Jabber. In instant messaging, probably it’s even worse than it used to be about e-mail when people starting to send around *.doc files, assuming that „everyone’s using Word“: If you want to communicate with someone through instant messaging, you require him/her to use a technology capable of communicating with yours. Using a non-free technology like Skype, you’re virtually forcing contacts also to use the Skype client. So, this sort of technology spreads around, maybe until it’s hard to control it anymore. So perhaps there’s just one hope, one light at the end of the tunnel, one emerging technology linked with a name huge enough to also reach, well, those who still don’t care: Google Talk actually is based upon Jabber, being able to be connected to by every client including Jabber capability…