IBM Lotus Sametime Challenges Microsoft for New Market

By Stan Gibson  |  Posted 2006-09-13 Print this article Print

News Analysis: IBM touts an open-standards platform and new partnerships around its Lotus Sametime 7.5 collaboration software.

NEW YORK—The rollout of IBM Lotus Sametime 7.5 here on Sept. 13 reflected an ongoing battle of collaboration platforms between IBM and archrival Microsoft. The advantage IBM is seeking is clear: While both companies are enlisting partners in the struggle, IBM is claiming to offer an edge through the use of open standards and greater interoperability. Lotus Sametime 7.5, announced at Lotusphere in January 2006, is based on the Eclipse open-source development platform. It includes instant messaging, Web-based conferencing and VOIP (voice-over-IP) communications in a unified collaboration platform. The product features federated interoperability with other popular instant messaging systems. It also includes presence awareness, so that users can be recognized by the system even if they are working remotely from their offices.
"This is not an incremental release, its a reinvention of this space," said Ken Bisconti, vice president of Lotus Products at IBM.
Customers who are making up their minds about the technology will now face a choice between two large rivals, IBM and Microsoft, with unified messaging platforms that are not geared to interoperate. Click here to read about the January 2006 revamp of Lotus collaboration tools. IBM has signed up partners such as Research In Motion, which has integrated the Sametime client with its BlackBerry wireless communications device. Other partners include Radvision, a maker of audio and video conferencing software, GroupSystems, which makes ThinkTank group collaboration software, Dassault Systemes, which has created an engineering graphics plug-in, Cisco Systems, Avaya and Nortel Networks. Sametime 7.5 supports Windows mobile clients, and support for the Apple Macintosh is in the works, IBM officials said. IBM claims a total of 100 partners in all. "For IBM, its clearly a partner play for real-time collaboration and messaging. Microsoft has made some improvements through public network integration and is opening up their platform, but less so than IBM," said Matt Brown, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass. The Lotus Sametime IM platform will support Linux. Read more here. "The big horse race is whether the vision of open-standards computing will work better than the stack approach [of Microsoft]," Brown said. He added that for now, IBM has the edge in product delivery. "IBM is shipping right now. The next generation of Microsoft communications server is still in beta. IBM is ahead by one quarter or so," he said. An interoperability bridge between the two rival camps could come from a number of partners that are also adapting their wares to Microsofts Communications Server and SharePoint Portal Server. Even though Sametime debuted eight years ago, widespread adoption has been slow. However, Michael Rhodin, general manager of IBM Lotus Software, in Cambridge, Mass., said IBMs most recent semiannual survey of CEOs uncovered strong interest in real-time collaboration tools, thanks to increasing globalization of corporations, their supply chains and their customer base. Rhodin said customers are now ready for the technology and that the Sametime 7.5 rollout marks "the dawn of real-time business." Forresters Brown was not convinced. "IBM is leading the market a bit. Customers arent asking for this already," he said. Even so, he said the technology is getting to a point where its possible to do more. When Microsoft rolls out its rival platform in 2007, the race will be on. "Who can establish this as a platform? Whichever company can gain the mindshare will be the winner," he said. Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.
Stan Gibson is Executive Editor of eWEEK. In addition to taking part in Ziff Davis eSeminars and taking charge of special editorial projects, his columns and editorials appear regularly in both the print and online editions of eWEEK. He is chairman of eWEEK's Editorial Board, which received the 1999 Jesse H. Neal Award of the American Business Press. In ten years at eWEEK, Gibson has served eWEEK (formerly PC Week) as Executive Editor/eBiz Strategies, Deputy News Editor, Networking Editor, Assignment Editor and Department Editor. His Webcast program, 'Take Down,' appeared on He has appeared on many radio and television programs including TechTV, CNBC, PBS, WBZ-Boston, WEVD New York and New England Cable News. Gibson has appeared as keynoter at many conferences, including CAMP Expo, Society for Information Management, and the Technology Managers Forum. A 19-year veteran covering information technology, he was previously News Editor at Communications Week and was Software Editor and Systems Editor at Computerworld.

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