Microsoft Pushes IM Standard

Company aims to connect 'Greenwich' server with other software via APIs.

Microsoft Corp. earlier this month debuted the long-awaited beta of its real-time communications server along with a strategy designed to make it an emerging standard for embedding instant messaging and presence detection in other applications.

The software, code-named Greenwich, is being positioned as a counterweight to the Sametime IM and presence server from IBMs Lotus Software division, the acknowledged leader in enterprise IM. But while Lotus is enabling developers to put Sametime into other applications as Web services, Microsoft said developers will connect Greenwich to other applications via APIs.

Greenwich, due to manufacturing by midyear, provides a software development kit that allows IM to be extended into other applications. But although the APIs are exposed through Microsofts .Net Framework, the IM functions are not actually Web services.

The real-time collaboration server will replace Microsofts current Exchange IM service. Microsofts Windows Messenger will be the main client for Greenwich, although users of The Microsoft Network consumer IM client will also be able to connect to Greenwich, according to Microsoft officials, in Redmond, Wash.

Along with IM and presence detection, Greenwich supports 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 also works with Microsofts Tablet PC environment for shared electronic whiteboarding, officials said.

Microsoft said it expects Greenwich to be 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.

Third-party developers of those applications would have to do some redesigning of their applications to fit Greenwichs APIs. However, such redesigning could save those developers from having to develop their own proprietary IM clients, said Francis DeSouza, CEO of IMlogic Inc., in Waltham, Mass., which develops IM logging and archiving software used by Greenwich and Sametime.

Lotus, of Cambridge, Mass., has talked about making its IM technology embeddable in other applications via Web services for more than a year. Some ISV partners have done just that since the capability became available last fall in Sametime 3.0, Lotus officials said.

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."


Key features of Microsofts real-time communications server
  • Supports IM and presence detection, PC-to-phone connections, PC-to-PC voice and videoconferencing, and data conferencing
  • Provides extensible architecture to embed IM and presence in other applications through APIs
  • Makes Windows Messenger its chief client
  • Supports SIP and SIMPLE standards
"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."

Despite their differences, both Greenwich and Sametime are based on SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and the SIMPLE, or SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions, add-on. Some in the industry are hailing this as a victory for IM standards.

Still, some IT managers are skeptical. David Moskowitz, CIO and chief technology officer of Productivity Solutions Inc., in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., praised Microsoft for embracing SIP, but he has concerns that Windows Messenger would be the chief client for Greenwich, since it was designed as a consumer application.

Moskowitz isnt sure hed turn to Microsoft for secure enterprise IM.

"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, cliché applies. There is a big difference between a general-purpose server product and instant messaging in this regard."

Microsoft officials would not say how Greenwich would be integrated with the companys other real-time collaboration products. But sources close to Microsoft said one likely possibility is that the PlaceWare conferencing services 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, the sources said.