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IBM Aims to Burst Microsoft's Office Communications Bubble

With Microsoft poised to unleash its next collaboration and unified communication (UC) suite next week, rival IBM is launching a preemptive strike by promising a tight level of integration between its own UC platform and its new, free Lotus Symphony productivity suite.

IBM said Sametime customers would soon be able to share and collaborate on presentations, word processing and spreadsheets created in Lotus Symphony, the company's suite of free business applications released last month. Those users will also be able to conference using Sametime's on-premises Web conferencing app or IBM's recently acquired Web-based conferencing application, Lotus Sametime Unyte.

"Office isn't the only application in the enterprise," Akiba Saeedi, director of IBM's Unified Communications and Collaboration division, told InternetNews.com. "We want to offer customers more choices."

Lotus Symphony's integration with Sametime versions 8.0 and higher may not arrive until some point during the first half of next year, however. Touting the news early is designed to steal a bit of Microsoft's thunder comes in advance of Tuesday, when the software giant will launch its much-touted Office Communications Server 2007 (OCS).

Along with its Office Communicator client and Office Live Meeting service, the OCS launch will mark Redmond's most extensive foray into the UC arena. Office Communications Server 2007 will add Voice over IP to the IM and collaboration features the company had previously marketed as its Live Communications Server.

Microsoft has said the intent is for companies to use OCS for instant messaging and collaboration while being able to retain their existing PBX systems, if they desire. OCS can integrate with these legacy systems as well, in some cases enabling employees to have incoming calls routed simultaneously to both their VoIP- and landlines.

IBM has other ideas, of course. During an interview with InternetNews.com, Akiba Saeedi, director of IBM's Unified Communications and Collaboration division, said Big Blue may be gunning for similar synergies but it takes a different approach.

"We believe in openness and open standards for our partners and for customers," Saeedi said, referring to Lotus Symphony's support for open source and standards -- which come by dint of the productivity's suite's basis on OpenOffice.org code. It's also free.

"That's fundamentally different from Microsoft, which is taking a proprietary approach," she added. "We see huge opportunity to bring different types of data together and simplify it from an end-user perspective. Whether they admit it publicly or not, Microsoft want to force licensing on companies to integrate third-party devices."

Saeedi acknowledged that the IBM's Sametime-Symphony announcement comes as a move to beat Microsoft's OCS to the punch, describing the timing as "an umbrella to talk about the differences" between the two companies' unified communications strategies.