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Lotus, Microsoft and AOL back enterprise instant messaging

IBM Lotus Software will this week roll out new versions of its Sametime Instant messaging software as instant messaging increasingly features in enterprise-level IT strategies.

Some 42% of enterprises are using IM for true business applications, according to Osterman Research. "By this time next year, you'll see 65% to 70% of companies using IM for a variety of business applications," said Michael Osterman, president of the US-based analyst firm.

Enterprise IM is developing as both a standalone application and as a set of technologies embedded in operating systems, software, and devices, according to analysts. IBM Lotus Software is aligning its Sametime and QuickPlace collaboration tools with IBM's WebSphere architecture.

Meanwhile Microsoft is working on its Greenwich initiative, designed to embed presence awareness and IM at the operating system level.

Both vendors are planning to use emerging Web services standards in their toolsets to help developers exploit real-time communications and presence-awareness technology in enterprise applications.

"What started out as a tactical application is being developed and nurtured by companies like IBM and Microsoft to have both a collaborative and productive benefit as an application," said Dana Gardner, research director at Aberdeen Group.

The strategic goal is to make real-time collaborative activities seamless to business processes, application activities, and consumers and partners on the supply chain, Gardner said.

IBM's roll-out of new versions of Sametime will break down the concept of a standalone IM client to allow collaboration within any application, according to IBM Lotus general manager Al Zollar. "The next step is going to make sure that we have more consistent, Java-oriented APIs that allow these things to be built into applications," he said.

Microsoft plans to move away from its Exchange-based IM offering to embed IM and presence-awareness technology in Windows .net Server next year. Code-named Greenwich, the initiative is designed to build on core presence capabilities to deliver IM, voice, video, and data collaboration throughout the enterprise, according to Microsoft.

AOL, on the other hand, is planning to launch its popular Instant Messenger service into the corporate space by the end of the year. An AOL representative said the company is extending its consumer-oriented IM platform to develop IM services that meet the needs of business users. Sources close to the company said AOL is planning to add encryption and bolstered IT administration tools to its service.

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