Microsoft has acquired a company called Parlano which creates whan they call a persistent chat. For some time now, Microsoft has produced Office Communications Server (previously known as Live Communications Server, LCS). This is a SIP-based system that allows users to (among other things) send IMs to each other, just like can be done using for instance MSN or ICQ. Indeed, the OCS/LCS client can also talk to MSN servers.
The SIP protocol allows both person-to-person communication and conferencing. I'm not sure whether OCS/LCS actually supports IM conferencing (what most people would call a chat room), but there are no technical obstacles.
What Parlano makes is a system that allows people who have been offline to read up on a conversation when they reconnect. You know, the kind of thing that ICQ users take for granted. The difference is that the Parlano system handles multi-person chats, and also that it handles multiple protocols. According to a Parlano product page, apart from LCS it will also handle AOL, Yahoo, and MSN. I can't find any mentions of SIP on the Parlano page, so I don't know whether their system uses that or some other homebrew solution to talk to LCS. Since this is Microsoft, I wouldn't be surprised if this was a non-standards-based solution. Rather the opposite, actually.
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