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Microsoft comes to the Instant Messaging party
Instant messaging is one of those technologies that IT managers often hate. It was developed in the flaky, insecure world of public chat rooms and has now been brought into the organisation by enthusiastic users. Some managers believe that instant messaging is an unwarranted distraction to day-to-day work. And even worse, instant messages cannot be allowed to come into the organization 'under the radar' but have to be recorded and archived securely.
Enterprise instant messaging is not going to go away. A recent survey by the Radicati Group predicted that instant messaging is on the verge of becoming a ubiquitous communication medium rivaling e-mail today. The Radicati Group forecasts an increase of almost 600% in company instant messaging accounts from 60 million today to 349 million in 2007.
IBM has long provided instant messaging capabilities and they pioneered the little green icon that sits beside each name to provide direct access to presence information. Microsoft has now entered the market for enterprise instant messaging with the first release of Microsoft's Live Communications Server. In this first release, Microsoft Instant Messaging does not have all capabilities of IBM's Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing application but Microsoft's key leverage in this market will be close integration between instant messaging and Microsoft Office.
Microsoft believes that information workers need to learn a new interface like a hole in their head and so they are concentrating on integrating live collaboration capabilities with Office and Outlook rather than trying to move users on to something new. We have seen this approach with Windows SharePoint Services. SharePoint workspaces for document and task based collaboration can be created directly from Office applications such as Word and Excel making access to collaboration as seamless as possible. In the same way, an instant messaging window is available alongside Office 2003 applications and Smart Tags allow users to find the presence status of a name in the document.
Microsoft's implementation of instant messaging using a separate Live Communications Server indicates they consider instant messaging to be an important infrastructure component. Instant messages can also be sent between people and applications and even application-to-application, supporting the real-time organisation.
This release of Live Communications Server only provides an initial capability in live collaboration. Microsoft has still some way to go to catch up with IBM but in the next release of Live Communications Server for late 2004, they plan to introduce multi-party Web Conferencing, integration with Microsoft Live Meeting (Microsoft external Web Conferencing service), and an interesting new function called an Information Agent.
Information Agent provides an intelligent assistant capability. If your partner rings up when you are unavailable, their voice messages can be translated to text and routed via the most suitable delivery method - e-mail, instant message or SMS. A text-based out-of-office reply can be translated into audio and relayed back to the caller.
Like it or hate it you have to admit that Instant Messaging adds a new dimension to electronic communications by making communications 'live'. Using presence information to choose the best way of contacting your buddies reduces telephone tag. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of instant messaging and the reason why people adopt it is that it fosters a real sense of community. Instead of just firing off e-mails, Instant Messaging is far more intimate and involving and gives us access to 'water cooler' communities even when we are away from the office.
Copyright 2004. Originally published by IT-Director.com, reprinted with permission. IT-Director.com provides IT decision makers with free daily e-mails containing news analysis, member-only discussion forums, free research, technology spotlights and free on-line consultancy. To register for a free e-mail subscription, click here.
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