IBM/Lotus this fall plans to release a new instant messaging gateway that will let users integrate IM and real time communication with partners and consumer networks.
The Real Time Collaboration Gateway will ship in mid-2006 as a replacement for the Lotus IM Gateway.
On Monday, Lotus announced it had signed deals with AOL, Yahoo and Google to integrate with their consumer IM networks. What was left out was how the integration would be supported.
The new gateway will be a free upgrade for existing Lotus IM Gateway customers and for those running Sametime, which supports both IM and Web conferencing. The gateway will be a separate product from Sametime.
The gateway will provide translation from Sametime's native Virtual Places (VP) protocol to the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and the Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE). It also will support the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, (XMPP), which is what Jabber and Google Talk are based on. The gateway will translate VP to SIP and then pass it to proprietary consumer services run by AOL and Yahoo.
The deals with AOL and Yahoo are similar to deals Microsoft struck last year with the two IM service providers.
The difference is Lotus does not plan to charge for the integration. Microsoft is charging customers to integrate its IM platform with those consumer networks.
"This is not a response [to that deal]," says Adam Gartenberg, offering manager in the real-time and team collaboration group at IBM/Lotus. "We are reacting to the needs of our customers. What drove this is that users wanted this capability without having to pay extra for it."
With the new Lotus gateway, users can connect directly to partners to integrate IM platforms or connect to the AOL Clearinghouse Network for routing services.
The gateway is part of a full makeover for Sametime 7.5, which will ship this fall. The overhaul focuses on the client side where Lotus plans to add a number of features that have been missing such as type-ahead capabilities that provides word suggestions as a user types, locally saved chat text, and the ability to hover over a name on a buddy list to get information about the person.
"A lot of our focus has been spent on the server side ensuring scalability and reliability," says Gartenberg. Now the focus is on the client, which is pointed toward becoming a development platform much like Notes and a place where end-users with specific job roles could live and work on a daily basis.
Lotus is using a new plug-in capability to let you add on social networking tools, extend features such as looking up free/busy times on calendars, adding location awareness features, the ability to find printers on a network, new click-to-call features that integrate the client with a PBX, or embedding soft phone capabilities into the client.
Lotus has licensed a codec from Global IP Sound to support the VoIP features. The codec is the same one used by Skype and lets up to five users connect at one time to the same call.
Partners also will be able to develop plug-ins that extend the capabilities of the Sametime client.
In addition, Lotus has added audio/visual integration with products from Avaya, Polycom, Nortel, Siemens and Tandberg.
"Lotus and its partners will be able to add a lot more value to the IM client," says Gartenberg. The plug-in architecture is built on Eclipse so any plug-ins that are developed for the Sametime client also would run on the forthcoming Notes Hannover client and the just released Workplace Managed Client 2.6.
Rival Microsoft is playing out the same sort of string on its Live Communications Server platform and trying to create a real-time platform flush with capabilities beyond IM and conferencing.
The Sametime Web conferencing client also is getting a much needed interface overhaul with the edition of a new welcome page, a separate folder to upload files, new firewall traversal capabilities and smoother handling of pop-ups. The browser-based 7.5 client is built on Eclipse.