IBMs Lotus Software unit launched a new version of its Sametime collaboration package that allows companies to integrate the communications system with some of the most popular free instant messaging applications available online today.
As expected, Lotus launched Sametime 7.5—which includes tools for Web conferencing and instant messaging, as well as sharing and editing documents online—at its ongoing Lotusphere developer conference in Orlando, Fla.
The update includes several major additions previously detailed by IBM, most notably a new applications development platform aimed at giving companies the ability to create their own collaborative Web services programs.
However, in crafting the system into the mold of what IBM calls a "real-time collaboration platform," the Armonk, N.Y.-based company surprised conference goers by announcing that it has also established ties between Sametime 7.5 and a number of the most popular free IM applications used online today, as well as with companies providing widely used audio and video communications software.
By giving Sametimes estimated 15 million users the ability to communicate with the millions of people using free IM software, as well as the audio and video conferencing applications, Lotus officials contend that they have greatly extended the overall reach of the collaboration package.
Included among the partners were America Online and Yahoo, both of which count millions of free IM users. Lotus also promised that it will soon add integration to search giant Googles own instant messaging software.
Among the other firms building direct links into Sametime were Avaya, Nortel, Polycom, Premiere Global Services, Siemens and Tandberg.
Lotus said the system uses SIP (session initiation protocol) technology to create a secure gateway through which companies can allow workers to use their private enterprise IM systems alongside the additional, publicly accessible collaboration tools.
In fact, said Surjit Chana, vice president of marketing and partners for IBMs Workplace, Portal and Collaboration Software unit, when someone is using free IM software from AOL or Yahoo to communicate with a Sametime customer both parties are protected by the security and management functions that IBM touts as among the core advantages in the enterprise collaboration package.
"(Sametime) provides integration between public IM systems and IBM in a secure manner since these companies built their own products on standards that allowed this to happen, while others did not," said Chana.
"Added together this collaborative environment is taking on a huge scale in terms of the sheer number of people that can be connected in a seamless way; its only natural that the ability to communicate with so many more people should lead to significant gains in collaboration."
Notably absent from IBMs list of IM partners is Microsoft, whose MSN client is considered a close rival to AOL, Google and Yahoo, but whom also competes aggressively with Lotus in the collaboration software sector.
Beyond IM, IBM said the partnerships with the voice technology providers will allow it to offer benefits including so-called click-to-call functionality through which users can place phone calls to other people directly from links in their Sametime e-mail inboxes.
For video, Lotus is hoping to encourage customers to use more footage in Web conferences, IMs and e-mail, to create new collaborative business opportunities.
Additional upgrades in Sametime 7.5, which is expected to become available sometime later this year, include a new IM interface that claims improved security and privacy features, along with augmented capabilities for using the system alongside voice over IP systems, and a new Web conferencing interface.
The new version of Sametime offers expanded support for Apples Mac OS X operating system, new social networking tools for creating internal corporate collaboration systems and a multiprotocol gateway for connecting to both public and private networks.
The software also boasts greater integration with IBMs Workplace Collaboration Services offerings, promising an identical user interface across the products.