Microsoft readies new corporate IM server

Just over six months after releasing the first version of its Office Live Communications Server, Microsoft Corp. plans to announce on Tuesday that it is ready to start picking candidates to trial the next version of its enterprise instant messaging (IM) product.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker plans to select up to 1,000 customers to participate in a beta test for Live Communications Server 2005, according to Dennis Karlinsky, a lead product manager at Microsoft. The beta should start in June or July with the final product due in the fourth quarter of this year, he said.

With the update, Microsoft aims to better compete with IBM Corp., its chief rival in the corporate IM space. When Microsoft introduced Live Communications Server 2003 last year, analysts said the vendor had some catching up to do. IBM has been selling Lotus Instant Messaging and Conferencing, formerly Lotus Sametime, for over five years.

With Live Communications Server, companies can run their own enterprise IM network and address security concerns related to public services, as well as log and manage employees’ IM usage. The product is capable of determining whether a user is online and available for communication in Office applications and can extend this “presence” information to other applications such as custom portals.

Key enhancements in Live Communications Server 2005 are federation, outside access and improved scalability, Microsoft said. Federation will allow a user to extend their IM and presence service to other companies, while outside access allows workers to connect to IM and presence from outside the corporate network without requiring a VPN (virtual private network) setup, Karlinsky said.

To enable federation or outside access, Live Communications Server users will have to buy an additional server and run that as an edge proxy server to connect to other users of the Microsoft product or allow external connections, he said.

Microsoft plans to keep updating its IM and presence product about once a year, which is a more aggressive update cycle than the typical two or three years for the company’s server products, Karlinsky said.

“We’re committed to a very aggressive release cycle and you will see a new release every 12 to 16 months. The presence and real time collaboration space is evolving so quickly we would be behind the curve if we did not,” he said.

Companies interested in participating in the Live Communications Server 2005 beta test should contact their Microsoft account manager or sales representative, Karlinsky said.

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