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.
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“I might adopt the Microsoft offering, but Im not willing to be an early adopter,” said Moskowitz. “Security is critical in this area and Microsofts track record … well, lets say, in this area, the old Im from Missouri, show me, cliche applies. There is a big difference between a general purpose server product and instant messaging in this regard.”
Moskowitz said he also has concerns that Windows Messenger would be the chief client for Greenwich, since it was originally designed as a consumer application.
Microsoft expects Greenwich to go well beyond those functions to being embedded in other applications such as those used for financial trading, call centers and customer relationship management. For example, a Greenwich-based chat window could open in a customer service application or Greenwich could send an IM alert in a business intelligence or supply chain management application.
Keith Glass, an IT consultant and Exchange administrator in Manassas, Va., isnt sold on the promise of IM everywhere, describing Greenwich as a “product in search of a mission.” Glass said he believes most users, except in specific areas like stock trading, will be reluctant to use IM in applications knowing that their comments are being recorded and monitored.
“Corporations might like it, but employees wont use it for anything more than are you in the office queries,” Glass said. “People dont like Big Brother watching.”
Third-party developers of those applications would have to do some rearchitecting of their applications to fit Greenwichs APIs. Though Imlogics DeSouza said such rearchitecting could actually save those developers from having to develop their own proprietary IM clients. He shrugged off the notion that IM could therefore become another Microsoft monopoly.
“Its funny, IM is one space where Microsoft really doesnt have a lot of market share,” he said.
Since both Sametime and Greenwich would be based on SIP, DeSouza said application developers would find it easy to support both.
Business activity monitoring software developer FirstRain Inc., which distributes alerts of business changes via IM and other channels, plans to support both Greenwich and Sametime going forward. Officials at the New York-based company said the support both platforms offer for integrated presence and event distribution will go beyond what FirstRain can currently deliver via IM and save the company from having to evangelize enterprise customers as to the benefits of their technology.
Brian Rowe, president of Cobra Technologies Inc., which develops automated applications for Sametime, said his company may extend its technology to Greenwich as well.
“We are not currently a Microsoft partner, but given the experience we have in this field, I wouldnt be surprised if we support them at some point,” said Rowe, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Greenwich is targeted for release to manufacturing by mid-year, according to Ed Simnett, lead product manager for Microsofts Real-Time Collaboration business unit. The software will require Windows Server 2003, but will not ship with the OS, Simnett said. Current Exchange IM users would have to migrate to Greenwich when they upgrade to Exchange 2003. Simnett said most Exchange 2000 shops run e-mail and IM on separate servers, so he doesnt expect such an upgrade to be too much of a hardship.
Lotus Dies however pointed out that Sametime does not require an operating system upgrade and is platform agnostic when it comes to e-mail clients, directory services and databases.
Greenwich will become the flagship of Microsofts newly-formed Real-Time Collaboration Group, joining Exchange Conferencing Server and the recently acquired PlaceWare conferencing service. Simnett said Microsoft is not ready to comment yet on how Greenwich would be integrated with those product lines. Sources close to the company said that Microsoft is still developing plans for the integration of those products, but that one likely possibility is that PlaceWare will morph into a hosted Greenwich service over the next six months.
Microsoft may also add Web Services integration capabilities to Greenwich in the same time frame, sources said.
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