Microsoft Ships Enterprise IM Beta

Microsoft has shipped a beta version of its much-hyped Greenwich platform in an effort to elbow its way into an already-crowded market for enterprise instant messaging (IM).

The server software allows instant messaging to be built on an extensible platform that can be customized and modified to include additional functionality and accommodate more ambitious collaboration tools in the future.

Greenwich is also designed to industry standards, making it easy to integrate with existing technology, Microsoft said.

Piece of the Puzzle

Microsoft representatives were not immediately available for comment. In a statement, Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s real-time collaboration business unit, said the beta delivery represents a milestone for the company.

“We seek to profoundly change how corporations communicate,” Gupta said. “Presence-based communications will revolutionize the way information workers collaborate, in the same way e-mail changed corporate communications in the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

IM, Therefore I Pay

Microsoft hopes to woo enterprise customers away from existing IM technology, such as corporate shareware sold by IBM and newer instant messaging environments initially designed for consumers.

AOL and Yahoo! both have successfully positioned their IM offerings as business tools, despite the fact that corporations essentially are using the same technology as chatting teenagers. One clear benefit of those options is that they are free.

“If a corporation is having success with AOL, it’s going to take a compelling argument to get them to change, especially if it means paying for a license,” Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio told the E-Commerce Times. “There may be a period of wait-and-see here as well.”

Enterprises that have become accustomed to using existing IM technology may not want to force workers to learn new technology, for instance, DiDio said.

Collaboration Reservations

Another reason for patience may be Microsoft’s planned rollout of additional collaboration software. Next week, the software giant will ship a beta of Office 2003, which will contain the first public versions of InfoPath, an XML-based program designed to speed information sharing among applications and users. Analysts are skeptical about how quickly the new technology will be adopted.

For its part, Microsoft said the Greenwich system will have a host of advantages over consumer-style IM technology, including “enhanced end-to-end security,” the ability to easily log and store IM conversations, and a platform that can be expanded to handle data collaboration, voice communications and video.

The new platform will be compatible with Microsoft’s existing MSN Messenger services, which the company upgraded last year for corporate use, hard on the heels of similar releases from AOL and Yahoo!

Greenwich will become commercially available sometime this summer, Microsoft said.

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