Lotus ships gateway to integrate IM with AOL, Yahoo, Google

IBM Lotus Sametime Gateway enables interconnectivity with AOL, Yahoo and Google, but not Microsoft’s IM platform

IBM/Lotus Wednesday released a gateway that will allow users of its Sametime instant messaging platform to connect to those using IM on public networks run by AOL, Yahoo and Google.

The IBM Lotus Sametime Gateway supports among others the two protocols most used among IM vendors: the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) / SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), and the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP). Integration with Yahoo and AOL is based on SIP/SIMPLE, and Google integration is based on XMPP.

While the gateway will support any system that uses those protocols, IBM/Lotus has tested it against AOL, Yahoo and Google implementations.

“I think this has two major impacts,” says Irwin Lazar, an analyst with Nemertes Research. “The first shows that enterprise IM systems can no longer exist on islands and that it is a standard feature for any enterprise IM system to be able to interconnect with public IM networks.”

The second impact, Lazar says, is that IBM/Lotus is supporting XMPP, a protocol that has lost favor over the past couple of years. “I don’t know if it is a competitive advantage yet [with Microsoft], but IBM can say it is the only one supporting interfacing with XMPP networks and that should make Sametime more attractive to government and financial organizations who tend to be the biggest users of private XMPP-based networks.”

Lazar also notes that IBM isn't offering an interface to MSN, which shows that IM system interconnectivity is still a battle.

“I’m not sure if IBM wanted to do it but Microsoft would not allow it, or the other way around, but either way it shows that while we're closing in on the goal of interconnected IM systems, we aren't there yet.”

Full features and functionality also aren’t there yet.

The first implementation of the Sametime interservice connectivity with AOL, Yahoo and Google supports only text chat and presence. Lotus is considering supporting other features such as file transfer that could also be controlled using Sametime’s policy management feature.

“The gateway itself has a plug-in model that allows server-side apps to be plugged in, so we suspect that if file transfer support is delivered, that our partners in the virus scanning space will plug directly into the gateway,” says David Marshak, senior product manager for IBM/Lotus.

A similar plug-in capability on the client side will let users add on social networking tools and extend features such as looking up free/busy times on calendars, adding location awareness features, finding printers on a network, integrating the client with a PBX through click-to-call features, or embedding soft phone capabilities into the client.

“Lotus is trying to open up Sametime as a development platform. They provide the Sametime engine, but make it open as possible for third-party plug-ins, while Microsoft is holding things a little closer to the vest,” Nemertes’ Lazar says.

The IBM/Lotus deal with the commercial providers is similar to deals among various vendors, including interservice deals Microsoft has with Yahoo and AOL. The difference is that Sametime users will not have to pay an additional fee to access those networks, according to IBM/Lotus officials.

The Sametime Gateway is free for users of Sametime. It sits on a WebSphere Applications Server configured to run only the gateway.

On the client side, users need the Sametime 7.5 client, which shows an icon for the public network the Sametime client is communicating with. On the server, however, the gateway is compatible with version 6.51 or later.

The gateway is part of a full makeover for Sametime 7.5, which shipped this fall. The overhaul focuses on the client side, where Lotus plans to add a number of features such as type-ahead capabilities that provide word suggestions as a user types, locally saved chat text, and the ability to hover over a name on a buddy list to get information about the person.

Sametime Gateway connectors are available now for AOL and Google. The Yahoo connector will ship later this month.

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