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IBM Doubles Down Lotus Sametime 8

IBM is gearing up to release not one, but two new versions of its Sametime instant messaging, unified communications and presence software.

Expected next Monday, one is a full-featured version that extends the functionality of its current enterprise product. The other is an entry-level version for customers who are looking for a secure corporate IM client.

"With Sametime 8, we're expanding the product set of Sametime," said David Marshak, senior product manager for unified communications at IBM/Lotus. "It was a single product with conferencing, voice, video, instant messaging, and programming model based on Eclipse. Now, we're dividing it up."

The new release of Sametime is squarely aimed at holding off Microsoft's Office Communications Server on Microsoft's own turf, offering integration of its presence, conferencing and collaboration features with Microsoft's Outlook and Office. And IBM is looking to push into the realm of small and medium enterprises with its client in an effort to displace consumer-focused IM clients.

In addition to Sametime 8 Standard, the full version of the product, IBM will release Lotus Sametime 8 Entry, a messaging and presence application designed to integrate with other business applications, including Microsoft Office, or e-mail through Microsoft Outlook--much in the same way as the presence features included in Lotus Notes 8.

The release comes as IBM faces renewed competition from Microsoft in the unified communications space. "Certainly from the software side, Microsoft and IBM have similar strategies in that they're clearly targeting the UC and voice over IP space a lot more aggressively than some of the traditional IM vendors," said Rob Koplowitz. analyst for Forrester Research.

"In terms of differentiation from OCS, functionally they're becoming more similar than they are different," said Koplowitz. "They're both investing pretty heavily, pretty aggressively in terms of the partnerships they're striking, and the core functionality they are driving toward around more robust Web conferencing, video conferencing, and Voice over IP, and [with] more ability to integrate voice and conferencing with external systems. They're both moving pretty aggressively in similar directions, which I think are the right directions."

Sametime Standard, for its part, adds a number of supported mobile clients, including Nokia E-series, Sony Ericsson, and Windows Mobile 6 devices. There are desktop client additions as well, including integration with Microsoft Office 2007, and a facelift of the Apple Mac OS X client that includes point-to-point video, bringing it up to par with the Windows and Linux clients. "It's not just bringing it up to the state of the windows client, but making it more Mac-like," Marshak said.

"It's the classic differentiation that you've seen between the heterogeneous vendors and Microsoft," said Koplowitz . "Lotus wants to be positioned well for folks who want to use a Mac client or a Linux client, while Microsoft is happy to troll in the rather rich environment of Windows users. It is certainly something that Lotus can take advantage of--in those heterogeneous environments, they make themselves an obvious choice."

On the server side, Standard includes integration with Notes 8 and support for virtual servers running within VMWare.

Marshak also said that several IBM partners will be bundling Sametime Entry with their products. "We are doing some bundling with 3Com and Nortel," he said, "their [VoIP] PBXs with our UI for communication." The bundled VoIP systems, targeted at the SMB market, will include IM, telephony, and voice mail, but not the web conferencing of the Standard edition of Sametime.

There will also be enterprise-oriented telephony "appliance" bundles of Sametime 8 Standard, he said. Later this year, IBM will release another specialized version of Sametime, Marshak said. Sametime 8 Advanced will provide realtime collaboration features for online communities.