Lotus unveils weapon in unified communications arsenal

The battle for supremacy in unified communications heats up as IBM reveals next version of Lotus Sametime

Reminiscent of so many software wars before it, such as the war over word processors, productivity suites, and the battle of the browsers, the latest clash is now taking place over UC (unified communications).

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The only thing that hasn't changed are the combatants: Microsoft on one side and IBM on the other. Plus, each side is lining up major networking allies such as Cisco and Siemens.

This week, it was IBM's turn to fire the next salvo in the UC wars as it announced Lotus Sametime Version 8 with Unified Telephony as its major new weapon.

Unified Telephony (UT) is based in part on a deal with Siemens to use its OpenScape UC technology, which will allow users to integrate across various telephone systems, both digital and legacy, and have access to voice, video, or data through multiple applications.

Mike Rhodin, general manger for Lotus Software Group, said at the introduction of the technology at VoiceCon in San Francisco on Wednesday that IBM is now offering "a full suite of collaboration tools" to make business "real time."

Rhodin's explanation of "real-time business" was the ability of users to have access to information almost instantly. This in turn, and in theory, makes available all the information a decision maker would need to evaluate information on the spot.

The Sametime Unified Telephony product will give the enterprise the ability to manage incoming calls, including sending alerts to a desktop and offering options on how to handle the call.

UT will also use presence technology, from Sametime instant messaging, to see who is available to communicate with and how to communicate with them.

Sametime UT also turns a desktop into a telephone in order to dial via the contact list and talk over VoIP services.

At the VoiceCon conference, IBM also announced three versions of Lotus Sametime: Entry, Standard, and Advanced.

Entry includes IM, presence awareness, spell check, chat history, and contact list management features.

Standard adds Web conferencing, along with the ability to add plug-ins and mashups and to communicate over public IM networks.

Lotus Sametime Advanced adds, on top of Standard, group chat and a community tool that will make it easier to find those within a company that have expertise in a particular discipline.

Also included is the capability to share screens and find contacts working in the same location.

The next UC salvo can be expected from Microsoft later this year, say analysts.

Lotus Sametime Standard is expected to be available in the fourth quarter. Unified Telephony is expected in mid-2008.

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