The update to its Lotus Sametime software that IBM has been promoting for months was launched on Wednesday, and the company plans to show off not only the product but also partner applications built using its new extensibility platform.
In January, IBM announced it was planning a major update to Sametime, its corporate instant-messaging and collaboration software. It said the product would have voice over IP (VOIP) capabilities, integration with public IM clients from America Online, Yahoo and Google and client-side support for Apple Computer's Mac OS X 10.4 and Linux.
As part of the revamp, IBM also added support for the open-source Eclipse development framework so third-party companies could build applications on top of Sametime.
At a launch event in New York on Wednesday, partners such as Cisco Systems and Dassault Systemes showed off applications that leverage Sametime's ability to let users connect in real time, said Ken Bisconti, vice president of Lotus software products at IBM.
Cisco will demonstrate Sametime plug-ins that let users "click to call" a VOIP audio conference that uses the networking company's technology, he said.
Dassault, a French company that provides project-management software, is using its 3D modeling technology in conjunction with Sametime to let Sametime users view models of products -- for example, an airplane -- and connect via instant messaging or voice with the designers of different parts of the product, Bisconti said.
Pricing for Sametime 7.5 is US$55 per user. The product began shipping in mid-August.
IBM is already planning enhancements for the product's next major upgrade, due some time next year.
Keeping in line with its intention to make Sametime more extensible, IBM in the next version wants to improve Sametime's Web conferencing aspect by making it more open to external developers, said Adam Gartenberg, IBM's offering manager for real-time collaboration.
For example, IBM is considering creating an API (application program interface) to let developers embed audio/video conferencing windows from other providers into Sametime's Web conference interface, he said.
With Sametime 7.5 today, it's possible to schedule a third-party audio/video session when reserving the Web conference, or to launch an "instant meeting" from the IM client, he said. This brings up both a Sametime Web conference and a third-party audio/video session simultaneously, each with its own window on the desktop, he said. The planned API would give users an integrated video window where they could see all aspects of the Web meeting in one place, he said.
IBM is also considering making the Sametime Web conferencing portion more modular, so elements of it can be made available outside the Web conferencing interface, Gartenberg said.
These elements, such as uploaded files, desktop or application sharing capabilities and virtual whiteboards, could be made available from within IM or e-mail environments, he said.
Instant messaging and real-time collaboration systems have traditionally been proprietary, so attempts to open up these systems to a broader IT universe are interesting, said Matt Brown, a Forrester Research analyst.
"IBM is certainly pushing this idea of interoperability and [making] real-time collaboration a platform component that can be consumed by other applications," Brown said.
Regarding IBM's plans, Sametime's Web conferencing would become less a place for users to meet online and more of an integrated part of the work they're involved in, Brown said.
So, an e-mail sent to a group could be seamlessly escalated into a Web conference including every recipient, Brown said. Or a Web conference could be embedded into a product design application so the team could share designs and models in an ad-hoc way, Brown said.
Sametime has more than 16 million users and is quite a mature product, but Microsoft hopes to steal some of its thunder with an update to its own real-time collaboration product. The company plans to ship Office Communications Server 2007 -- a revamped and rebranded version of its Live Communications Server product -- as a competitor to Sametime in the second quarter of next year.