The analyst firm believes that the battle for dominance in this market will help define collaboration and communication architectures for the next decade.
"Vendors such as Microsoft, IBM and Cisco have recognised that IM is a gateway to larger investments, such as IP telephony, web conferencing, presence and other communication services centred on SIP," stated a Gartner briefing.
"Vendors are therefore aggressively promoting their respective IM technologies, offering new functions to users at no extra charge and filling in functional gaps."
Microsoft's acquisition of Parlano was driven by this latter dynamic, according to Gartner.
Parlano's rich tabbed chat (the ability to navigate among different chat sessions with a tab) and group chat (the ability to have chat rooms for multiple participants) are compatible with Office Communications Server (OCS).
"While Parlano is a small vendor with less than $10m in annual revenue, it has a strong following among financial firms which tend to be the most aggressive IM users of all vertical markets," said the analyst.
"The acquisition also underscores the difficulty that small IM companies will have in competing against industry giants such as Microsoft and IBM."
Full integration of Parlano's chat services into OCS is not scheduled to take place until 2009, but the first quarter of 2008 will see a Microsoft-branded release of Parlano's own IM system, MindAlign.
The chat add-on from Parlano is expected to be offered as part of the standard OCS client access licence.
"The MindAlign product will eventually be discontinued, but Microsoft has promised continued support for existing customers through a third party," stated Gartner.
"Migration details for existing Parlano customers to OCS have not been worked out. Microsoft has promised that existing Parlano customers will not have to purchase Software Assurance to obtain rights to OCS licences and Microsoft will provide a one-to-one licence grant as part of the migration of licences."
Gartner advised firms not to lose sight of the fact that IM investments are strategic and should be made with care. In many cases, IM services will underpin investments in a variety of collaboration and communication modes.
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