The enterprise instant messaging (IM) standards war will hot up later this year when Microsoft releases its corporate IM Real Time Communication (RTC) server.
Formerly code-named Greenwich, RTC will be released as an add-on to the Windows Server 2003 operating system launched last week, and uses the SIP-based Simple protocol, which is also backed by IBM.
But other vendors, including Hewlett Packard, Intel and Sony, are supporting a different XML-based extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol.
Both standards are currently being assessed by the Internet Engineering Task Force, but analysts have warned that users should not be put off the genuine business benefits of enterprise IM by any standards war.
Robin Bloor, chief executive at Bloor Research, compared it to the growth of email and said that, once the technology becomes more widespread, it will be in vendors' interests to make sure that all IM systems work together.
"From the users' perspective it doesn't matter who wins. It is inevitable that there will be a fundamental interchange capability in the future," he said.
"If you look at the way email was used in the first instance in the 1980s it was within corporations and there wasn't any meaningful interchange.
"When the advantage of making it available to the world was obvious, the standards issue disappeared."
Microsoft is due to ship RTC server in the third quarter of this year, and claims that IM will improve communication and collaboration within businesses.
"The take-off of IM in the enterprise, even on an unmanaged basis, has shown how valuable real-time communications and 'presence' is to today's information worker," said Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of the Real-Time Messaging and Platform Group at Microsoft.
Bloor agreed that businesses, especially in financial services, are looking at corporate IM products, but indicated that adoption of the technology will be gradual.
"There are some operations that will be enhanced by the intelligent use of IM because people do need to collaborate on the fly," he said.
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