For Microsoft, it’s ‘Greenwich’ beta time

Microsoft Corp. is set to make a showing in the enterprise instant messaging (IM) and collaboration market Thursday with the release of a beta version of its real-time communications server software technology, code-named “Greenwich.”

Greenwich, which is due for commercial release in mid-2003, represents the software giant’s push for presence-based applications, which show when users are online and available to communicate.

With presence in mind, Greenwich offers companies IM functionality that includes data collaboration, PC-to-PC voice and video and integration with the company’s MSN Messenger Connect for Enterprises service. The Connect service provides authentication and management for business-to-consumer instant messaging.

Although presence is most commonly associated with IM, the company predicts that it will soon be the basis for enhanced communications across a variety of enterprise applications, networks and devices.

For example, the new technology offers presence integration with business applications and shared team sites, according to Ed Simnett, lead project manager of Microsoft’s Real Time Collaboration business unit.

“Greenwich is about making IM happen, but it is also about changing the way people communicate,” Simnett said.

The project manager echoed the view given by Microsoft Product Unit Manager David Gurle at the Instant Messaging Planet conference in Boston last month. Gurle touted the capability of presence to create a “human-to-human Web.”

However, corporate IM is the leading lady of presence right now, as companies fight to stamp out the rash of consumer IM products that have inundated their networks and replace them with secure enterprise-class versions.

Greenwich leverages the company’s MSN Messenger client and offers security, including message encryption, and logging of conversations for reference and regulatory compliance. It also offers multiparty chat capabilities, whiteboarding and PC-to-phone calls, Simnett said.

Microsoft is not the only player rushing into the enterprise IM market. A host of other providers including rivals Yahoo Inc. and America Online Inc. have also recently announced their entrance.

But the Redmond, Wash., software maker is taking a different tack on business IM in that it seeks to integrate it with its other products. According to Simnett, Office 2003 and upcoming versions of Outlook will incorporate Greenwich, and Windows Server 2003 will be the operating system underlying the real-time collaboration technology.

Although the Greenwich beta will be widely released Thursday, some large Microsoft clients, such as Reuters Group PLC, have already been testing the software. According to Simnett, feedback has been positive.

“Our clients like having this exciting functionality available through familiar tools,” he said.

Pricing for Greenwich has yet to be revealed.