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IBM in Microsoft's Upgrade Path

IBM isn't giving up an inch on the desktop.

Big Blue is unveiling parts of Lotus Sametime 7.5, promised in January of this year, with upgrades allowing integration between its collaboration tools and Office.

But it's making sure that Office users don't have to send rival Microsoft  so much as a farthing to upgrade from earlier versions.

According to Adam Gartenberg, offering manager for real-time collaboration for IBM, Sametime 7.5 adds more than a hundred new features to 7.0, and will also support a wide range of mobile devices. Moreover, it will offer the same integration functionalities to Microsoft Office users as are available to users of IBM tools such as Lotus Notes.

Gartenberg explained that customers working in hybrid environments specifically requested that Sametime 7.5 be compatible with earlier versions of Office.

"We have some of the largest customers in the world," he told internetnews.com. "They can't have the support problem of having to update all those desktops."

Michael Rhodin, general manager for workplace, portal and collaboration products, said in a statement that IBM is helping Microsoft customers benefit from open standards and "avoid being locked into a closed solution."

Indeed, said Matt Brown, an analyst with Forrester Research, "the battle lines [between Microsoft and IBM] are being drawn around this question of openness."

The Sametime 7.5 upgrade includes integration of instant messaging (IM), VoIP  calling, and Web conferencing, all within calendar and word processing applications.

Sametime 7.5 also allows customers to use third party IM services such as Yahoo Messenger or AIM within the Lotus client.

"People are using public IM for business uses," noted Gartenberg. "This allows companies to manage this" in terms of security.

In addition, knowledge workers will be able to access Sametime 7.5 through a wide variety of mobile devices.

Gartenberg said that it was important for the product to interoperate with most operating systems because mobile devices are purchased by individuals and would thus be impractical to swap out.

Beyond new features introduced with this release, IBM is also promoting the idea that companies will take advantage of the Eclipse framework to build add-on collaborative applications. Gartenburg suggested that a company could create a mash-up  with Google Maps in order to locate staff out in the field.

"It looks like IBM is positioning this as a development platform." Brown told internetnews.com. Brown noted that Microsoft, with its mantra "better together," should be wary of being seen as saying, "only together."

"This debate about openness will be an issue for Microsoft," he said.

IBM expects to make Sametime 7.5 available in the third quarter of 2006. Sametime is expected to support RIM Blackberry, Nokia and Windows Mobile devices beginning in the fourth quarter of 2006. Integration with Microsoft SharePoint, Outlook 2000 and above and Office XP and above is expected at the beginning of 2007.