Users react to IBM instant messaging plan, give it a :-)

The company plans to link its software to AIM, Yahoo, Google

ORLANDO -- IBM's decision to link its secure messaging system with instant messaging products from America Online Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc. won praise today at the Lotusphere 2006 conference, where users said the move could be a boon to their operations.

IBM plans to allow its Lotus Sametime corporate IM system to work with the three consumer systems by midyear, marking another effort to break down barriers that have so far separated IM users from one another (see "IBM instant messaging to link to AIM, Yahoo, Google"). The ability to marry the various IM systems from IBM, AOL, Yahoo and Google is based on Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP.

Microsoft Corp., a more direct rival of IBM in the corporate IM market, was not included in today's announcement, which was made at Lotusphere 2006.

Daniel Singleton, a corporate programmer analyst at Assurant Solutions, a division of New York-based specialty insurance company Assurant Inc., said that adding security to public IM clients could go a long way toward increasing IM use for his division's 7,000 Lotus Notes users.

"The key thing is the security," Singleton said. "If the security is there, then I see no reason whatsoever that we wouldn't adopt it. I find it extremely useful. The whole power of something like this is that the more people who are on it, the more effective it becomes."

Management at Assurant Solutions currently sees IM as more of a distraction than a tool, Singleton said, and company policy doesn't allow AOL's Instant Messenger software to be used because of security concerns. Even so, public IM networks can be useful because they make it easier to contact clients and users instantly. "I personally think that there's some value to be had by connecting with the public IM networks, simply because of the number of people using it."

According to IBM, Lotus Sametime has 20 million corporate users worldwide. AOL Instant Messenger has more than 40 million users in the U.S. alone, according to a Commscore Media Metrix survey. Yahoo had about 20 million IM users and Microsoft had around 15 million as of mid-2005. Google, which introduced its IM offering last year, had far fewer.

Jeff Bentley, a messaging engineer at Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia Corp., said the financial institution would find secure IM with the public networks critical for connecting its brokers to their customers and others. For a majority of the bank's brokers, IM use is currently prohibited in-house because messages can't be filtered for inappropriate communications, he said. But as a tool for brokers, it would be a boon, he noted.

"It would be huge if we could make it secure for our brokers," Bentley said. "As customers become more savvy, the brokers are also looking at IM as another way to communicate with their clients."

The company will likely look at Sametime's new security features and integration with the public IM clients, he said, first as an internal project with other users who are not brokers. Then, if that testing is successful, it could later be rolled out to the brokers, he said. Bentley said he supports about 70,000 Lotus Notes users running Version 6 clients and Domino 6.54 on the servers.

David Carswell Sr., president of The VIA Group Inc. in Houston, said his clients -- which include Exxon Mobil Corp. and Halliburton Co. -- are always asking about public IM use but are hesitant because of security concerns. Being able to connect Sametime securely with the three public IM networks would be an incentive to revisit the issue, he said.

"It enables them to better communicate," Carswell said. One benefit of the Sametime approach is that it will give users control, he said, which will be important for large companies. "It will make customers more comfortable because the application sits on their enterprise network under their security controls.

"It will propagate, and probably quite quickly," he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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