IBM and Microsoft lock horns over IM

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IBM and Microsoft lock horns over IM

Big Blue eyes Microsoft Office users.

IBM's recent decision to broaden the target market for its Lotus Sametime instant messaging and web conferencing beyond its traditional base of Lotus users marks the first shots of a "fierce battle" with Microsoft, analysts have predicted.

Gartner noted that the battle lines were drawn last week when IBM unveiled an extension to Lotus Sametime 7.5, the next version of its IM and web-conferencing platform, that will support several of the components in Microsoft Office.

Sametime 7.5 will be available in the third quarter of 2006, while the extensions for Microsoft Office will follow early in 2007.

Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner, suggested that the announcement appears deliberately timed to coincide with Microsoft's recent announcements on unified communications.

"Microsoft and IBM are locked in a fierce battle for market and mind share in the collaboration market," he said.

"Users typically deploy Microsoft or IBM product lines in a more or less complete stack, with Notes/Domino forming the core on the IBM Lotus side and Exchange/Outlook for Microsoft.

"On top of this core, users increasingly add IM capabilities with IBM's Sametime or Microsoft's Live Communications Server. The near-ubiquity of Microsoft's Office provides a common element to both sets of users.

"Despite some growth for open source alternatives like OpenOffice, Microsoft Office continues to be a widespread corporate standard."

Mann went on to explain that IBM has accepted, at least to some extent, that its own SmartSuite could not hope to overturn the dominance of Microsoft Office.

Sametime's integration with Office, along with Lotus Domino's long-standing support for Outlook as a client, will therefore increase IBM's ability to sell to Microsoft users.

"IBM has integrated Notes with the main Office products, such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel. However, Microsoft naturally provides deeper integration with its own products," said Mann.

"The big changes anticipated in Office 2007 will only increase Microsoft's advantage, at least until 2008."

Sametime 7.5 offers several advantages over Microsoft's offerings, according to Gartner, including long experience with on-premise web conferencing, an extensible architecture built on the Eclipse framework and support for Linux/Macintosh.

It also offers location-based IM services and no charge for access to consumer IM services such as AOL, Yahoo and Google.

However, Mann believes that these advantages are unlikely to sway many customers, compared with Microsoft's promise of improved voice support, closer integration (especially with Office 2007) and licensing agreements that favour complete suites.

"While IBM has now provided more choices for buyers, its efforts will not halt the move toward an integrated collaboration market," Mann predicted.

Gartner advised Microsoft Office users who are dissatisfied with Live Communications Server, or find the advantages offered by Sametime attractive, should consider the new IBM offering.
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