Microsoft's entrance to spark corporate IM

IDG News Service |  Software

Riding a tide of desktop domination, Microsoft Corp.'s latest foray into presence is expected to kick-start corporate adoption of IM. Lateness to market, however, has analysts skeptical as to how the offering will compete against those of longtime collaboration players such as IBM Corp.

Office Live Communications Server 2003 -- code-named Greenwich and previously known as Real Time Communications Server -- was released to manufacturing last week. Microsoft sees the product's delivery, slated for six to eight weeks, as a "key moment" in establishing IM as a business tool, said Ed Simnett, lead product manager at Microsoft.

With Live Communications Server, companies will be able to run their own enterprise IM network, address security concerns related to public services, and log and manage employees' IM usage. The product is capable of determining whether a user is online and available for communication in Office applications and can extend this "presence" information to other applications such as custom portals.

Despite noting the significance of the product's upcoming release, analysts believe Microsoft has some catching up to do. Market incumbent IBM has been selling Lotus Sametime -- recently renamed Lotus Instant Messaging and Conferencing -- for approximately five years.

"Sametime has been out for a number of years, giving IBM a significant leg up. I would expect to see the second version of Office Live Communications Server as a closer competitor to Sametime," said Michael Osterman, president and founder of Osterman Research Inc.

But with Office on nearly every business user's PC, Microsoft has a considerable market advantage, said Maurene Caplan Grey, research director at Gartner Inc.

"What Live Communications Server has that nobody else has ... is integration with Office and SharePoint," Caplan Grey said. SharePoint is Microsoft's file-sharing and team-collaboration product.

New York-based law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges has 3,000 people in nine countries already using IM. The firm rolled out Sametime in 2001 and uses the IM and presence features in several custom applications, said Richard Lowe, associate director of client information services at the firm.

"We have integrated IM into our portal, our own applications, and other systems such as ERP software; so rather that just having IM conversations happening, they can happen in context," Lowe said.

Providing IM in context is one of Microsoft's goals. Until now, Microsoft has struggled in finding a home for its IM product, placing it first in Exchange and then toying with making it part of Windows. The company finally settled on Office as the right place.

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