Microsoft IMs on Greenwich Time

At a busy Microsoft Exchange Conference 2002 (MEC) in Anaheim, Calif. this week, Microsoft Corp. officials rolled out a bevy of new products and features surrounding its .NET architecture, including new wireless messaging and customer relationship management (CRM) strategies. Speaking of messaging, it also went into more detail about its real-time communication services, which include enterprise instant messaging (EIM).

Greenwich is the codename for a Windows-based technology that brings secure real-time communication to the enterprise. The technology is designed to provide a central means that will manage all real-time communications within an enterprise, Microsoft also said. Greenwich will integrate presence into the Windows .NET Server 2003 platform to give enterprises access to voice, video and data collaboration.

In his keynote speech, Microsoft .Net Enterprise Servers Group Senior Vice President Paul Flessner said
Microsoft will be “aggressively” pursuing Greenwich with a big investment in the technology. He also said the company will be “pushing … the platform around real-time communication and collaboration, making it secure, making it a part of the infrastructure and making it something that you can continue to depend upon for your knowledge workers as very much a statement of direction today.”

“It’s very much the next generation of what we want to do, which is more tightly integrate this technology into the platform, (and give it) much more robust encryption, authentication, and a very secure instant messaging for business kinds of conversations,” Flessner said. “So that’s a future to come.”

Microsoft sees Greenwich as being either a part of or the entire platform for real-time communications. Customers can use the platform as either a secure, manageable EIM solution out of the box; or as an extensible, standards-based real-time communications platform on its own.

On the EIM side, the platform will support four key elements: security, manageability, standards-based architecture and extensibility. With these, developers and integrators can build on top of the Greenwich capabilities. “Many other solutions available today have pieces of those four areas,” Microsoft said. “But very few bring all four as Greenwich does, in a Windows format the user knows and likes.”

Who will provide some of these added features? Microsoft would not specifically say, but a spokesperson noted that Microsoft partners will play a “key role” in extending the platform.

Logging and archiving will also be included in Greenwich, not only for those who want to scroll back and see what they’ve said in previous IM conversations, but for those in industry segments where logging and archiving are a regulatory requirement — financial services or medical services, for example.

In terms of security, Greenwich fully integrates with Microsoft’s IT security management structure, and will add protection to unencrypted text traveling across the Internet. Greenwich will also provide standards support for technologies like SSL encryption, Digest and NTLM/Kerberos authentication.

In the future, Microsoft sees line-of-business integration to be a vital point of Greenwich’s evolution. For example, customer relationship management (CRM) and other systems increasingly rely on real-time communications systems to be their core information delivery mechanism. EIM — specifically, Greenwich — will be both the “dominant and right way to deliver (such) information,” officials said.

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Greenwich also signals Microsoft’s further commitment to Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). Already a part of Windows XP’s Windows Messenger client, SIP is approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It provides Microsoft with a base for presence, as well as the ability to support API’s and all of the possible real-time content of text, speech, files and video.

More and more companies are moving towards the SIP and the associated SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE) standards. Most notably, Yahoo earlier this week said it is studying SIP/SIMPLE as a possible vehicle to bring about interoperability with the other public IM networks. “It’s pretty heavily influenced right now by Microsoft, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” said, Ken Hickman, Yahoo director of product strategy for the enterprise solutions division. “They (Microsoft) have a lot of muscle and developer tools.”

The signal is a big one in the IM industry overall, because the big 4 public IM networks — AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), AOL-owned ICQ, MSN Messenger from Microsoft and Yahoo Messenger — do not “talk” with one another. Also, Yahoo last Monday rolled out introduced Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition, a business-strength product that provides security, administrative control and integration with several portal software and directory service products.

While the new Yahoo EIM offering does connect with the Yahoo network, it does not provide interoperability — what Hickman called interoperability with a capital “I” — with the other major public IM networks of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and MSN Messenger from Microsoft. He said Yahoo as a company supports the concept of interoperability, and hopes to see it one day.

Yahoo sees problems with SIP/SIMPLE, though. “It only contains about one-tenth of the functionality we need,” Hickman said. “It’s really basic messaging and presence. For example, a lot of features we have — the file transfers, our IMvironments (“skins” for the instant-messaging window), the PC-to-phone capabilities, the chat stuff — none of that is covered under SIMPLE at this point.”

Ultimately, Hickman hopes that products like Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition will drive the development of one standard, because of demand from the business and other communities that require strong EIM products with features like logging, auditing and encryption.

Yahoo’s EIM platform is set to hit the market in the first quarter of 2003. Microsoft, meantime, will begin rolling out technologies based on the Greenwich platform in the first half of 2003, a Microsoft spokesperson said.

Microsoft already has an EIM solution that’s a part of Exchange 2000. Customer feedback on EIM, the software giant said, showed that the market wanted the platform to be extensible, as well as have it be usable in more than just the core application.

Bob Woods is the managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.

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