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IBM Collaboration Suite Gets More Chatty

IBM  today announced that customers of its Lotus Sametime 7.5 corporate instant messaging and Web conferencing application can now communicate with users of AIM and Google Talk instant messaging (IM) systems.

The company will also add interoperability with Yahoo Messenger by the end of 2006, and plans to add Jabber to its roster in the near future as well.

IBM originally announced plans to offer this functionality in January 2006.

Enterprise IM is a critical element of Big Blue's efforts to make Sametime 7.5 the dominant collaboration tool in the enterprise space.

Allowing users to communicate with customers and partners outside their firewalls is core to this strategy.

According to Akiba Saeedi, program director for real-time collaboration products at IBM, IM is the best tool IBM can provide its customers for knowing when an interlocutor is available for communicating.

That is when IBM can demonstrate the full value of its suite, she said.

"Where we're starting with is the federation of IM systems, because it all starts with presence and then being able to initiate a conversation with someone. And as soon as you initiate a text-based conversation with someone, you may decide you want to get on the phone or you may want to have a video conference," Saeedi told internetnews.com.

"The ability to actually connect those same kind of capabilities between users across company lines is where we'd like to take it in a future direction."

Saeedi said that VoIP  and Web conferencing plug-ins for Sametime 7.5 are already in the works.

Sametime connects with AIM, Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger through the IBM Lotus Sametime Gateway. The Gateway acts as an intermediary between Lotus Sametime and each public IM community by receiving instant messages, translating them into the proper protocol, and delivering them to recipients regardless of platform.

IBM is using both industry standards for instant messaging -- Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP)  standard and the Session Initiated Protocol (SIP/SIMPLE)  standard.

Sametime will display the availability status of external as well as internal contacts, including if contacts have selected not to be disturbed or are offline.

"One of our core tenets is external collaboration and helping people work together more easily," said Saeedi.

IT administrators can take advantage of the policy management features of the Lotus Sametime Gateway to provide customized access based on a user's business needs, and can also address security and compliance issues.

Saeedi said that Sametime is the most deployed corporate IM system, with many deployments numbering over 100,000 users.

IBM charges $55 per user for the Sametime 7.5 client.

She added that, in contrast to Microsoft, IBM will not charge an additional license fee to connect to public IM systems.

A Microsoft spokeswoman told internetnews.com that Microsoft "made public IM connectivity available to our LCS [Live Communication Server] customers on a per-user, per-month service agreement. We've chosen to separate PIC licensing from the price of LCS so that customers aren't charged for functionality they may not need or want."

She added that Microsoft has made this functionality available for longer than IBM.