AOL and Microsoft are heading for a showdown over internet instant messaging technology, as the service becomes increasingly important to business users, according to research firm Gartner.
In a study out on Tuesday, Gartner finds the two giant companies divide between them the lion's share of instant messaging customers.
Just over half of consumers and 40 percent of business users rely on AOL's instant messaging service, while 36 percent of consumers and 40 percent of business users turn to the Microsoft version, according to Gartner.
Consultants are predicting the battle between the rival technologies will come to a head by 2003, resulting in either a marketing and technology deal between AOL and Microsoft, or one of the two companies being eliminated from the instant messaging market.
Microsoft, said Gartner, "holds the upper hand in terms of web services technology", but the giant software company "has issues with public perception in terms of trust and reliability".