With the latest release of IBM Lotus Sametime, users get a retooled experience that simplifies many tasks. The new client architecture, meanwhile, simplifies extension of the product for third-party developers. Sametimes improvements make it relatively easy for users to manage meetings, Web conferencing and instant messaging chat sessions and for administrators to manage the system itself. Sametime 7.5 is priced at $55 per user. eWeek Labs tested Version 7.5 CF1 (Cumulative Fix 1), which began shipping in November.Sametime isnt unique in integrating Web conferencing with collaborative applications. For example, Central Desktops namesake wiki platform and WebEx Communications WebOffice (formerly Intranets.com) include Web conferencing capabilities. However, Sametime does a better job than these applications at making the integration seamless, thanks to the Sametime Connect IM client.In Version 7.5 of Sametime, the Sametime Connect client has a number of new features that make it more appealing to users accustomed to public-network IM clients. Also new are features that will save users some time and simplify communications via IM as well as via voice and videoconferencing. One of the biggest changes to the Sametime Connect client is the addition of the ability for users to provide location-based presence information, such as home, mobile and office phone numbers. This information, along with voice conferencing capabilities, will appear when users names are right-clicked from the buddy list. The Sametime Connect client also can remember location information based on devicesuch as a mobile or desktop computerand it now supports virtual business cards, which list contact details, including phone number, address and photo. The business cards feature is fairly common in XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol)-based IM solutions, including Jabbers XCP and Antepos OPN System Rivoli. Click here to read reviews of Jabbers XCP and Antepos OPN System Rivoli. We also liked Sametime Connects VOIP (voice over IP) capabilities. We could start a voice conference with a single mouse click, and voice conferencing can be extended from one-to-one sessions to conferences with as many as five attendees. During tests, performance was comparable with that of other VOIP solutions, including Skype. Another nice change is simplified file and screen sharing through the IM chat window. The screen sharing is particularly nice if users just want to check basic facts in a file with another user or troubleshoot a technical support issue. During tests, we simply selected an area of the screen we wanted to share, and that selection would appear in the chat session of the person with whom we were communicating. We also liked the improvements to local chat storage, allowing more flexibility in the capture of single and multi-party IM sessions. (Local chat storage can be disabled centrally from the server.) Sametime Connect now includes rich text, emoticons and real-time spell checking. These features may not be as significant as some of the others previously described, but they will go a long way toward making the Sametime platform palatable for users accustomed to public-network IM clients. The Sametime server has been able to connect to public networks since 2005, but in previous versions of the platform, the gateway was an additional component. The gateway is integrated in Sametime 7.5, allowing companies to connect to public IM networks, such as Google Talk and AOL, as well as to private networks that use XMPP or SIP/SIMPLE (Session Initiation Protocol/SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions). Sametime and Microsoft Office Live Communications Server are SIP/SIMPLE-based, while Jabbers Jabber XCP and Antepos OPN System Rivoli are XMPP-based. The Sametime Connect client has been rewritten on the open-source Eclipse platform, adding Linux support and making it easier for developers to create add-on components for the client. For example, Group-Systems has built a Sametime Connect plug-in for ThinkTank 1.1, an application for managing idea tracking and decision points in meetings. Other plug-ins provide integration with third-party videoconferencing systems (including those from Tandberg and Polycom) and VOIP systems (such as those from Avaya). When it comes to pulling together real-time collaboration, the Sametime Connect client does an excellent job. During tests, we could launch an instant Web conference session simply by selecting participants from a buddy list. Although the Sametime Connect client can be used to schedule a meeting, it just launches the Sametime meeting servers scheduling engine in a Web browser. Users can more effectively schedule Sametime meetings directly from within the Lotus Notes clients calendar and scheduling tool. Web conferencing with the Sametime 7.5 platform is a pretty straightforward affair. The user experience is well-organized, with a main sharing view and three side windows for managing attendees, chat and co-browsing, and polling. The Sametime server manages conversion of Microsoft PowerPoint slides, and users have the ability to present slides, share applications, co-browse or work in a shared whiteboard. Overall, Sametime 7.5s Web conferencing features fall somewhere between very-low-cost desktop--sharing- applications and services such as Citrix Systems GoToMeeting and more complex systems such as Elluminates Elluminate Live. A big improvement with this release is in connecting to a Web conference and reconnecting if disconnected. During tests, Sametime 7.5 connected us to meetings in less than 1 minute, and we were automatically reconnected if we momentarily lost connectivity. Clients must have Sun Microsystems Java Virtual Machine installed to use the automatic reconnection feature, however. Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.