Microsoft Debuts Collaboration Server

The software giant's Greenwich real-time collaboration software battles Lotus to become an IM standard for the enterprise.

Microsoft Corp. on Thursday made available the long-awaited beta of its Greenwich real-time communication server along with a strategy designed to make Greenwich an emerging standard for embedding instant messaging and presence detection in other applications.

Greenwich is being positioned as a counterweight to Lotus Softwares Sametime IM and presence server, the acknowledged leader in enterprise IM. But while Lotus, of Cambridge, Mass., is devolving Sametime into other applications as Java-based Web services, Microsoft is taking a somewhat different path. It is connecting Greenwich to other applications via APIs (application programming interfaces) rather than federating IM and presence as Web services.

Greenwich is designed to replace Microsofts current Exchange IM service and in so doing, allow instant messaging to be extended into other applications via a software developers kit and APIs, which are exposed through the .Net Framework, but are not actually Web services. Microsofts Windows Messenger will be the main client for Greenwich, though users of the MSN (Microsoft Network) consumer IM client will also be able to connect to Greenwich via MSN Messenger Connect, according to Microsoft officials, in Redmond, Wash.

Via the Windows Messenger client, Greenwich will also support PC-to-phone connections and PC-to-PC voice and video connections over voice over IP, as well as data conferencing and remote assistance applications. It will also work with Microsofts TabletPC environment for shared electronic whiteboarding, Microsoft officials said.

Despite their differences, both Greenwich and Sametime will be based on SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and the Simple (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions) add-on, which some in the industry are hailing as a victory for standards.

"This definitely signals a standards-based direction for IM strategy," said Francis DeSouza, CEO of IMLogic Inc., which develops IM logging and archiving software used by both Greenwich and Sametime and other IM services. "Its a major step for IM becoming an enterprise technology."

Jeremy Dies, offerings manager for advanced collaboration at Lotus, agreed that Microsoft supporting SIP and the related SIMPLE extensions for IM and presence signaled acceptance of an industry standard. Lotus released a SIP gateway for Sametime last October.

Dies said that while Greenwich supports dragging and dropping of buddy lists into other applications, Sametime allows for deeper integration so that just any mention of a persons name in an application will indicate that users presence status.

Some IT managers remain skeptical though. David Moskowitz, CIO/CTO of Productivity Solutions Inc. in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., praised Microsoft for embracing SIP, but still isnt sure hed turn to MS for secure enterprise IM.