IBM's recent decision to broaden the target market for its Lotus Sametime instant messaging and web conferencing beyond its traditional base of Lotus users marks the first shots of a "fierce battle" with Microsoft, analysts have predicted.
Gartner noted that the battle lines were drawn last week when IBM unveiled an extension to Lotus Sametime 7.5, the next version of its IM and web-conferencing platform, that will support several of the components in Microsoft Office.
Sametime 7.5 will be available in the third quarter of 2006, while the extensions for Microsoft Office will follow early in 2007.
Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner, suggested that the announcement appears deliberately timed to coincide with Microsoft's recent announcements on unified communications.
"Microsoft and IBM are locked in a fierce battle for market and mind share in the collaboration market," he said.
"Users typically deploy Microsoft or IBM product lines in a more or less complete stack, with Notes/Domino forming the core on the IBM Lotus side and Exchange/Outlook for Microsoft.
"On top of this core, users increasingly add IM capabilities with IBM's Sametime or Microsoft's Live Communications Server. The near-ubiquity of Microsoft's Office provides a common element to both sets of users.
"Despite some growth for open source alternatives like OpenOffice, Microsoft Office continues to be a widespread corporate standard."
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