AOL Instant Messenger

AIM Logo

The AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) is an ad-supported instant messaging and presence computer program, published by AOL, which uses the OSCAR instant messaging protocol and the TOC protocol. The most recent software version is AIM 5.9.3797, released in June of 2005 (for Windows) and AIM 4.7.1333, released in February of 2004 (for MacOS X). AOL has described this technology as a means of "immediate cross-Internet communication". [1] (



AIM allows users to communicate instantly through text to their "buddies" around the world, provided they have the AIM software. AIM has 195 million users (January 2003), with a large proportion using Internet slang. Advocates claim that it is easy to locate these users by visiting chatrooms that AOL has set up solely for those purposes. Chat topics range from heavy metal music to current affairs. AOL also has a member directory where AIM users can locate others online who share their interests. AIM is also noteworthy for its use of buddy icons and buddy profiles, allowing its users to construct a personal avatar and small personal information page.

AIM's setup varies greatly from MSN Messenger in that it does not require approval from one buddy to be added to another's buddy list. As a result, many users keep other unsuspecting users on their buddy list to read their profiles, even if they never send a message to that user. A user can block another user from all communications, but some users keep extra usernames for avoiding these blocks.

Since version 2.0, AIM has included person-to-person text messaging, chatroom messaging, and the ability to share files peer-to-peer with one's buddies. Somewhere in the 4.x series, the AIM client for Microsoft Windows added the ability to play games against one another. Recent (4.3 and later) versions of the client software store one's contact information on AOL's servers, so one can keep track of up to 350 buddies from any computer with Internet access. Stand-alone official AIM client software is available for free for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Mac OS X, Linux, Windows CE, and Palm OS. It was believed that versions of AIM including and above 4.0 contained a clause in the software license that disallowed the use of third party clients, so some users still use only the 3.0 series of AIM. However, the latest version of AOL Instant Messenger's software license does allow the use of third party clients, subject to the terms and conditions of that third party.

There is also a version of AIM, called AIM Express, that is implemented in DHTML and runs in a web browser. It is intended for use by people who are unable or unwilling to install an executable client on their machines but still want to use instant messaging. AIM Express supports many of the standard features included in the stand-alone client, but does not provide advanced features like file transfer, audio chat, or video conferencing.

The standard protocol that AIM clients use to communicate is called OSCAR. AIM Express uses another protocol called TOC. TOC has also been made available to the public, which some people believe is an attempt to throw a bone to third-party client developers and lure them away from OSCAR. If this is the case, it has not been entirely successful. AOL often changes the details of the OSCAR protocol, which tends to keep third-party clients from working properly. This has resulted in quite a bit of difficulty for programmers of third party clients.

Apple Computer's iChat AV software, released in June 2003 for Mac OS X, was the first AIM-compatible client to allow for audio and video conferencing over the AIM protocol. In February, 2004, AIM 5.5 was released, allowing Windows users to video conference with each other and with iChat users. However, AIM 5.5 does not allow the audio-only chats that are a feature of iChat AV.

AIM software is the first to use online video streaming advertisements, via the Eyewonder protocol.

AOL is beta testing Triton, an overhauled version of the AIM client, which has many of the features from the popular third party plug-ins, including tabbed messages and AIM logging. Triton Beta (

AOL has also recently released AIM Mail ( with the latest version of the AIM client, offering 2GB e-mail accounts for all users. Beyond the account size, AIM Mail boasts both webmail and IMAP interfaces, as well as AIM presence and Single Log-on.

AIM terminology

AIM and AOL use several terms for elements of their instant messaging, which are different than other messengers. These include:

  • Away message: A function of some instant messaging applications whereby a user may post a message that appears automatically to other users if they attempt to make contact, and he or she is not available. It is analogous to the voice message in an answering machine or voice mail system. However, away messages are often updated much more frequently than messages in answering machines, and thus may serve as a means of instant, limited "publication" or indirect communication.
  • Buddy List: The centerpiece of AIM, a list containing the status of up to 350 buddies. This status can be 'online', 'away', 'idle', 'mobile', or 'offline'.
  • Screenname: Term for user name with AOL origins. These are available for free along with software downloads from AOL (
  • Spim: Spam over Instant messaging. The spam problem in e-mail has the potential to spread to Instant Messaging, in the form of one-line advertisements. As a closed network, AOL has been able to block most SPIM, but some still passes through to users.
  • Warning: If a user feels a received instant message is inappropriate, he or she can "warn" the sender, which increases the sender's warning level. Warning levels reduce the rate at which users can send messages and can eventually cause a given ScreenName to be unable to sign-on for a period of time. One user can only warn another user if that second user has been the only one to send a message. The warning system has been controversial, with those opposing it claiming that it can be abused easily, which the latest changes aiming to resolve that abuse.

See also

External links

Official sites and download locations

Online versions of AIM

  • AIM Express (
  • ICQ2Go! ( (supports chatting with AIM users via ICQ)
  • QuickBuddy (
  • (

Third-party add-ons

Third-party clients

Third-party services

Utility AIM Bots

AIM Bot Creation

Profile Tools and Extensions

  • Buddy Profile (
  • ReAIM (
  • SLAPM ( (Software for Logical AIM Privacy Management)
  • (


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