The latest beta of Yahoo's instant messaging application Yahoo Messenger 9.0 is squarely targeted at consumers, but at least one analyst believes some of its capabilities would interest small businesses as well.
"[Yahoo Messenger 9.0] has features that could benefit remote workers and many small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs)," said Carmi Levy, senior vice-president of consulting firm AR Communications in Toronto.
Specifically, he cited the latest version's revamped instant messaging capability and new audio features.
Beyond games, sleeker graphics and updated emoticons, Levy sees definite potential for Yahoo's latest IM product to be used in business situations, especially by remote workers, employees at SMBs or freelance professionals.
He notes that the beta now allows users of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system to use voice in online chat rooms. Users can also engage in PC-to-PC voice over IP calls on the instant messaging (IM) client.
"This feature can definitely benefit remote workers and a number of SMBs," said Levy.
For instance, he said, a teleworker or SMB employee could easily choose to use this feature to make free PC to PC calls, "or inexpensive PC to traditional phone line calls for rates as low as one cent a minute."
Instant messaging, although still not widely used in the enterprise space, is gaining some adherents among business users as they realise that employees working on project can exchange information faster using IM than email, the analyst said.
"Teams working on particular projects are increasingly realising that IM offers them greater collaboration and real-time communication advantages."
Yahoo Canada's Ng said enhanced security is a key feature of this latest beta version of Yahoo's IM product.
Added security features of Messenger 9.0 may encourage potential business users to give Yahoo a second look, said Levy from AR Communications. "If people are using this at home, eventually they would want to bring it over to work."
But he cautioned users who want to use applications -- such as Messenger -- at the office, to first clear it with the IT administrator.
Workplaces that consider using consumer-grade software must also investigate the plan's viability and determine how it can best be deployed with minimum risk, the analyst added.
"This beta version proves that Yahoo is not yet ready to roll-up and die but is rather prepared to go head-to-head against Google Talk and MSN Messenger."
Another analyst, however, believes business users are better off staying away from all three products as they can compromise security.
"These products are strictly consumer-grade. The risks from virus attacks and content-related compliance issues are just too many," said Tim Hickernell, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group.
He said large businesses should consider enterprise-grade products such as Microsoft's Office Communicator, which offer greater security features.
Small business or users with limited budgets, Hickernell said, should look at applications such as Open Fire from Jive Software. The product was developed from open source software, but offers corporate quality at SMB pricing, he said.