IBM Beats Microsoft to Meeting Space

NEW YORK — IBM  is looking to recuperate in real-time
collaboration what it has lost in asynchronous workplace tools.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based software and services vendor today announced that
real-time collaboration platform Sametime 7.5 is available.

Sametime 7.5 features secure enterprise chat, Web conferencing and
document-sharing capabilities.

Customers will also be able to drag charts derived from business
intelligence applications into the chat window; the charts remain hooked up
to their respective business applications and are updated in real time if
the underlying data changes.

The client also supports VoIP  and video conferencing and
can be used on a variety of mobile devices.

Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM Lotus Software, emphasized that this is
not simply an upgrade from Sametime 7.0, but rather the birth of a new

He said that there are already more than a dozen plug-ins from IBM
partners available immediately, with more than a hundred more scheduled for
release later this year.

The company can add so many new features so quickly, he said, because
Sametime 7.5 was built on an open source Eclipse-based foundation, rather
than with proprietary code.

That means Big Blue can benefit from the work of hundreds of partners rather
than relying simply on its own developers.

The company demonstrated one plug-in from French-based Dassault Systemes
, which allows users to not only drag a 3-D graphic into
the chat interface, but also allows them to do 3-D rendering in the client

Rhodin said that IBM will be providing a virtual partner showcase where
customers can find examples of applications built by partners.

“It’s the collaborative applications built on Notes that make the platform
successful,” he told

IBM sees real-time collaboration as a huge opportunity for growth.

Because real-time collaboration involves so many disparate technology
sectors, including VoIP, wireless and mobile devices and video conferencing,
it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on the market potential.

Rhodin said the platform represents a market opportunity of several tens of
billions of dollars.

Forrester analyst Matthew Brown agreed with that assessment, while Gartner
offered a much more conservative assessment earlier this year, putting the market at somewhere north of $1 billion.

Regardless of the exact dollar figure, IBM sees it as the jumping-off spot
for its next phase of growth.

“We’re using this launch as the next leg of our expansion,” Rhodin told

IBM has certainly gotten the jump on Microsoft  by
launching this product just nine months after announcing it.

Microsoft has also announced several features of its own real-time collaboration tool, Office
Communications Server, but doesn’t intend to launch until sometime next

The two companies lock horns in several areas, including the asynchronous
workplace collaboration space.

Brown said that Microsoft’s SharePoint Server has been trouncing IBM’s
Workplace collaboration suite in recent months, going from 40 million
licensed users in December 2005 to 70 million last June.

“Workplace has not seen that level of attraction,” Brown told

But IBM is not of a mind to let Microsoft get a jump in this market, Brown
said, and is now four or five months ahead of the Redmond, Wash.-based
software vendor in real-time collaboration.

“IBM wants to own the real-time stuff.”

IBM not only has the advantage of being first to market, he added, but
can promise to deliver new applications more quickly because of its partner

“You’re placing a bet on who is going to innovate more quickly,” Brown said. “I would suggest that partners working on open source will move faster.”

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