Lotus Sametime offers collaboration tools such as chat, whiteboard, polls, screen sharing and multimedia online meetings.End users already use instant messaging and chat clients on their desktops. Some even use virtual conferencing tools to share information and, in some cases, even video.If they find these tools useful, you're not going to be able to make them stop. So wouldn't it be better to give them a standard set of collaboration tools that you could control and secure locally? Lotus does that with its Sametime product, which offers collaboration tools such as chat, whiteboard, polls, screen sharing and multimedia online meetings.How we did itInteractive Scorecard and NetResultsArchive of Network World reviewsSubscribe to the Product Review newsletterThe product uses two emerging standards:\u00a0Session Initiation Protocol, a signaling protocol that initiates and manages a session without concern for the content; and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), which can let SIP sessions exchange information.Sametime requires the Domino Application Server. For those who aren't running Domino for their mail services, a limited license of Domino is included with Sametime. The Domino install was quick, but there were some undocumented changes that need to be performed before Sametime would function correctly. After the initial install, Sametime can be administered through a Web interface.Using the Domino account management, the Web interface is used to create new users and manage their access. If used on an intranet with controlled network access, you can even let users register themselves. A company's\u00a0Lightweight Directory Access Protocol-enabled\u00a0directory can supplement or replace the Sametime account management.A little Java gets you goingIf the conference rooms are all full, or if your partners are in a different state or country, you might want to try online collaboration using the Sametime Java Meeting room client as an alternative to a face-to-face meeting. Each meeting has a "moderator" who first sets up the meeting's parameters. Sametime offers three types of meetings: Collaboration, best for small groups with everyone participating; Moderated Presentation, for a larger group with modest participation; and Broadcast Presentation, when there are many viewers who are only watching.A meeting can either be scheduled or started impromptu. If scheduled, the moderator can announce its scheduled length and post any attachment attendees might need. The meeting can be limited to a list of attendees, or opened to the whole office. You can display the meeting on the calendar of events or hide it from view. To further restrict access, a password can be used before admission is granted. You can also employ encryption.The moderator can specify which tools will be available, such as whiteboard, full or partial screen sharing, chat, sending Web pages, polling, audio and video. Once scheduled, the meeting description is viewable from the main Web page. The URL for the meeting can be e-mailed if the meeting is unlisted.The meeting can be recorded and replayed later, or the URL can be sent to colleagues who couldn't attend.Fully connectedTo maintain an online presence, use the Sametime Connect client, available in Java and Win32. The Java version, like the Meeting Room client, has no install and is launched from your browser. Once authenticated to the Sametime server, you set your availability status. By default, you can be active, away or say you wish not to be disturbed; you are free to customize these status messages.A list can be built of those with whom you'd like to interact, and you can group them how you want. If you're waiting for someone to become available, your client can notify you automatically.You can start an encrypted chat session, send unencrypted one-way messages or send files. If everyone you've needed to meet with is available, select your group and start an instant meeting. The invite list is sent to the Sametime server, and a virtual meeting room will be constructed. An invitation message will appear, and once accepted, the Meeting Room client will start. Just like a scheduled meeting, the same multimedia tools are at your disposal.Playing well with othersOne advantage the Win32 client has over the Java Connect client is the ability to chat with\u00a0AOL\u00a0users. While staying connected to the Sametime server, the client also can begin an AOL Instant Messaging session. You can use the Sametime groups to make lists of your AOL contacts and start chat sessions with them as well.Sametime also can create a meeting that is compatible with Microsoft's NetMeeting, and other compatible clients. You can choose whether to allow NetMeeting and Sametime Meeting Room clients in the same meeting. However, you cannot extend Sametime's encryption to these other clients because they don't support it.Sametime gives your staff the ability to go beyond just chat and into the realm of collaboration. The Java clients enable secure use of Sametime virtually anywhere. And the architecture can grow as your company does. If you're looking for a way to meet with folks where geography or time isn't on your side, give Sametime a try.