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InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

February 5, 2006

3 Min Read

Continuing my Lotusphere 2006 series, this post explains more about my perspective on the past, present, and likely future of IBM Lotus Sametime. 

Sametime was created from IBM’s 1998 acquisitions of DataBeam and Ubique.  DataBeam specialized in data conferencing and multimedia conferencing technologies, creating technologies used in products such as Microsoft NetMeeting.  Ubique was a start-up with an innovative approach for (and patents on) place-based presence awareness.  IBM Lotus integrated and extended the acquired technologies into IBM Lotus Sametime, establishing leadership in the then nascent market for enterprise-oriented, secure instant messaging (IM) and web conferencing products.  Sametime incorporated a specialized version of the Domino server for directory and other services, but didn’t require a full Notes/Domino deployment.  Windows and browser clients were provided, and IBM also partnered with AOL for enterprise/consumer IM interoperability with AIM.

IBM later integrated Sametime with Notes, providing seamless, in-context real-time presence awareness and communication tools.  Each Notes license now includes a license to the instant messaging capabilities of Sametime.  Sametime has over 15 million licenses, not including the millions of Notes and WebSphere Portal users deploying its IM capabilities. IBM also produced a software development kit (SDK) for application developers who want to exploit Sametime services in custom applications.

IBM appeared to lose focus on Sametime, however, during the same period in which it focused more on Workplace than Notes.  The Sametime brand was retired and IBM introduced a new product, IBM Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing, based on the former Sametime technology.  The products’ user interfaces were also allowed to get a bit stale, reflecting a shift in emphasis to newer IBM Workplace alternatives.

As such, many Sametime customers were probably concerned, prior to Lotusphere 2006, about the future of their Sametime investments.   As was the case with Notes and Domino, however, IBM Lotus presented a very compelling and reassuring strategy for Sametime customers at the event.

IBM has clearly redoubled its focus on the Sametime product and related technologies.  It has reintroduced the Sametime brand, and plans to release Sametime 7.5, a major new release, during mid-2006.  Sametime 7.5 will introduce a new user experience model, building on the Eclipse.org-derived rich client technology that IBM will also exploit for Notes Hannover and future Workplace Managed Client releases.  Screen shots on Ed Brill’s blog such as the image below depict a distinctly post-90s user interface model:

 

The Sametime 7.5 client will be readily accessible to application developers working with Notes/Domino, WebSphere Portal, and Workplace products.  It will also be extendible, making it possible to, for example, customize the Sametime client with tools for reserving rooms and other conferencing-related resources.  On the server side, IBM Lotus will introduce a new Sametime gateway for enterprise-class interoperability with consumer-oriented IM offerings from AOL, Google, and Yahoo!.  Given the significant number of enterprises with mixed IBM/Microsoft deployments and the very large population of people using Microsoft’s consumer-oriented IM service (MSN Messenger, soon to be re-branded as part of the Windows Live family of services), it’s likely IBM and Microsoft will also work to ensure smooth real-time interoperability.

To recap, the future of Sametime, especially amid the confusing IBM real-time marketing and branding changes during recent years, was until recently very far from clear.  With the refined and updated IBM Lotus real time plan unveiled at Lotusphere 2006, however, it’s clear that Sametime is once again the center of IBM’s real-time communication/collaboration strategy.

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