Time Warner's AIM hopes corporate users will pay up.

Instant messaging, once dismissed as "kids' stuff," is now a must for the Internet's giants. It hasn't proven too lucrative in the consumer niche, but it seems everybody's aiming for business now, where many companies think there are big bucks to be had. Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) AIM service announced a new move in this arena Tuesday, rolling out a new client devoted to secure corporate instant messaging.

Through an agreement with WebEx (NASDAQ:WEBX), AIM is releasing two new "AIM Pro" versions of its messaging client. One version targets small businesses and self-employed individuals, while the serves larger companies. The AIM Pro packages will include a customized interface, as well as security features. Users will also have access to integrated voice and video, as well as the ability to collaborate over the Internet. The service will be available in the second quarter.

Of course, the obvious question is whether businesses will flock to pay a fee for a service that has been available for free for so long. Greater customization and stepped-up security measures would be tangible benefits, but there has already been a push throughout the industry to provide voice and videoconferencing features to IM clients in general. (The press release describing the service as "on demand" seems a bit odd, considering you could argue all IM services are "on demand.")

AIM is far and away the instant messaging leader, with 56% market share, although Internet giants Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) all have competing services. Yahoo! and Microsoft recently made the surprising move of agreeing to play nicely together, which will come to fruition sometime soon in an extremely aggressive competitive move against AIM. And everybody's waiting to see whether Google's chat service will catch on with users and add the convergence that everybody's been waiting for, allowing users of the competing IM services to communicate at will.

There have also been signs that AIM has been willing to relent a little bit. It recently hooked up with IBM (NYSE:IBM), which has had success with its own corporate IM program.

Furthermore, my Foolish colleague Tim Beyers recently commented on the incredible popularity of instant messaging in business settings, pointing out that recent data clocked 1 billion IM messages sent by 28 million business users per day. He asked whether the medium is quickly making email's slower approach obsolete. Although I'd imagine email will never go away for less urgent communications, I can see his point, particularly in a business sense, where real-time communication and multitasking are of utmost importance these days.

IM is going to continue to evolve -- that much is certain -- and the medium will very likely continue to add interesting new features. However, turning it into a money-making endeavor seems likely related to the corporate perception of this service. Seeing how well this move by AIM does will show whether corporations are willing to shell out for the value-adds.

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Time Warner is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.