Microsoft Corp., in the first half of the year, plans to ship its LCS (Live Communications Server) 2005 for instant messaging and Web conferencing; its Live Communications Client, code-named Istanbul; and an updated version of its Live Meeting hosted Web conferencing service.
At about the same time, IBMs Lotus Software division plans to ship Lotus Workplace Collaboration Services 2.5, which offers e-mail, calendaring, IM, team collaboration, electronic learning, Web conferencing, and document and Web content management in a single product.
New per-CPU licensing is designed to make it more affordable for customers to extend Workplace tools to users, said officials at Lotus, in Cambridge, Mass.
The upcoming battle highlights key differences between the strategies. While IBM delivers e-mail and collaboration in a single product, Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., offers e-mail through a separate product, Exchange, part of the Windows Server Group.
Microsofts e-mail and calendaring client, Outlook, as well as the work of its Real-Time Collaboration Group, which oversees LCS and Live Meeting, and SharePoint-branded products are all part of the Microsoft Office group.
Analysts say the battle could determine which vendor leads the markets for messaging, which Microsoft has traditionally led, and collaboration, which IBM has dominated. Market share numbers for last year wont be available until the spring.
Both companies are touting innovations in the products. Microsoft is pushing federated IM in LCS 2005, which allows interoperability with the major IM networks, plus a client supporting integrated IM, voice, video and Web conferencing.
The Live Meeting service update should support integrated audio conferencing and may support videoconferencing, technology incubating at Microsofts research labs, officials said.
IBM announced a new Web conferencing hosted service at Lotusphere late last month, as well as a new Activity Explorer interface that unites the collaborative components of the Workplace suite.
Both companies support contextual collaboration in their latest releases, with IBM one-upping Microsoft by supporting presence information in all versions of Microsoft Office rather than just Office 2003, which Microsoft supports.
For Jonathan Rood, associate vice president of IT at San Francisco State University, interoperability was a key selling point of Workplace, which SFSU plans to implement by years end.
Rood noted, "We liked the open-standards features merging in Workplace and what we could do merging the technology with other tools and applications." He said he evaluated competing Microsoft technologies but declined to comment on them.
Another selling point for him was the change in Workplaces licensing, from per-seat to per-server.
"We always look at licensing as a big factor," said Rood. Using Workplace combined with IBMs WebSphere Portal, SFSU is building a system to allow students to access class schedules and assignments online and to create IM buddy groups of students in the same classes.
Meta Group Inc. analyst Matt Cain said licensing issues are important to most customers. "IBM has [one] separate SKU for e-mail, IM, Web conferencing and team collaboration; Microsoft has an enterprise agreement," said Cain in Stamford, Conn. "If I were Microsoft, Id be looking at what IBM is doing with a great deal of interest."