Groupware to Include Instant Messaging

Sure, instant messaging is a consumer concern. That is until consumers download the program at work to stay in constant contact with friends and loved ones from nine-to-five. Instead of frowning on the practice, groupware vendors are trying to make it worth the network administrator's time to allow instant messaging.

The three top groupware dogs -- Lotus Development Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Novell Inc. -- have begun the engineering to bring instant messaging to the office. According to Meta Group Inc. (, these vendors will have instant messaging programs available in the next eight months.

Lotus holds the best position in the market so far. The company’s Sametime platform has been available in 16 languages since the beginning of the year, with version 1.5 shipping in late August. Lotus Sametime not only provides an instant messaging client but also adds interactive features to the rest of the groupware environment. For instance, if you receive an e-mail that was sent out to a group of people, usually you see the addresses of those people in the header. Using Sametime, the addresses of those who are online at that time will be bolded green. If you want to discuss the message, you can begin a chat with the highlighted recipients immediately.

Paul Haverstock, general manager for Lotus Sametime, says the most important part of instant messaging is the awareness that someone is online. "Our own entry in the real-time space was driven by our observations of the way people work online," Haverstock says. "People need that presence, not just in a dedicated window to the side, but driven in the applications we have today." He also explains how other application developers are looking to embed these types of hooks in their own applications to take advantage of Sametime Server real-time awareness.

While Sametime is integrated with Notes, it is not part of the Lotus Domino package. The product is a separately packaged server that can be either installed over Domino or alongside Exchange, GroupWise, or other groupware. Sametime 1.5 supports the T.120 communication standard so Microsoft NetMeetings can be launched using the service, as well. Lotus signed an agreement with America Online Inc. (AOL, in August to make the Sametime client compatible with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

"The concept of instant communications [in the workplace] is incredible," says Terry Ulanch, product marketing manager for Novell’s GroupWise. "When you see this in the consumer space, people say 'Hey, what if I had this at work?'"

In August, Novell announced its own agreement with AOL to integrate AIM with Novell Directory Services (NDS). Through the agreement, NDS users will be able to set policies on top of AIM, giving the client an in to the enterprise network.

According to Ulanch, part of that agreement gave Novell the right to bundle AIM with any Novell product including GroupWise. Whether Novell will package AIM with GroupWise or integrate it into the groupware itself, Novell hasn't decided, Ulanch says, but the engineering team is working on the options.

The next generation of Microsoft's groupware Exchange Server platform, called Platinum, is due out in the first half of 2000. A Microsoft spokesperson says it will include "full instant messaging capabilities" for use by all Exchange customers. A limited technical beta of Platinum that includes the instant messaging capabilities was released to some customers, and Microsoft is deploying the Platinum instant messaging feature at its Redmond campus, according to the spokesperson.

Microsoft is also incorporating MSN Messenger with Hotmail, so business users can access workgroups through the public Web e-mail system. "Although instant messaging has been primarily seen as a consumer technology, there are many uses for instant messaging within the business world," the spokesperson explains. "[It's] a tool for increasing the collaboration between teams and lowering total cost of ownership of messaging systems by providing a low-bandwidth, yet highly effective, means of communication."

The problem with instant messaging, however, is the issue of competing standards. If the recent highly publicized bought between AOL and Microsoft over opening up instant messaging is any indication, the messaging debate could really get turbulent when there are corporate accounts on the line, as opposed to a free consumer service.

Microsoft has chosen this industry to be a proponent of interoperability and is cooperating with the instant messaging and presence protocol (IMPP) working group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF, Lotus is a member of the group, as well. In the meantime, MSN Messenger communicates using Microsoft's RVP protocol, which the company has published and encourages vendors to develop interoperable systems against.

As for administration, Novell is committed to making AIM compatible with Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), a finished IETF standard. NDS is LDAP compatible so it could be used for management. Lotus' Haverstock says Sametime is LDAP compatible as well and the company is working to make that function automatic from the installation. Although Microsoft's Active Directory, the directory service to be released with Windows 2000, is not yet available, Microsoft has said that it, too, will be LDAP-compatible.