AOL has launched a new instant messaging application for business users.

AIM Pro integrates with Microsoft Outlook, encrypts and scans messages and links to conferencing services from WebEx Communications.

Around 14 million people already use AIM as a daily business tool, AOL said, but there have been increasing security concerns about using a consumer tool for confidential business interactions.

AIM Pro Professional Edition (PE) hopes to meet these concerns as well as expand its use into secure file sharing or hosting online meetings with voice, video and collaborative working tools.

Although there are already enterprise instant messaging tools on the market, such as IBM's Lotus Sametime, most business IM users make do with free tools intended for consumers, AOL said.

The company faces renewed competition in the enterprise services market with Microsoft announcing this week that it will link up with Nortel to integrate its instant messaging software with traditional telecommunications and conferencing services.

AIM Pro PE is available as a free download and will automatically import contact lists and account information from previous versions, the company said.

The business conferencing services provided by WebEx require users to set up an account with WebEx, which charges from 33 cents per person per minute for a conference.

As an alternative to the screen names that identify users of the consumer AIM service, AIM Pro PE users can identify themselves using their business e-mail address.

AOL also has agreements that allow it to exchange traffic with users of Microsoft's Live Communications Server and IBM's Lotus Sametime, and other IM services including Jabber, Antepo, and Parlano.