Microsoft is to integrate instant messaging functions into its Exchange Server Email engine, following the acquisition of Flash Communications last week.
Flash, a US startup, makes an eponymous client/server real-time messaging product designed for use within the enteprise firewall. It runs on NT or Windows 95 servers. Neither company would disclose the price of the acquisition.
Three months ago, Microsoft signalled its interest in real-time message conversations when it proposed standards for instant messaging to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It has since put forward a specification called Rendezvous Protocol (RVP) to the standards body, which identifies the presence of people when they come online.
In the short term, Microsoft will use Flash technology to build real time collaboration features into Exchange, in the Exchange Chat Service and Net Meeting elements.
This would enable Exchange users to know when colleagues are online and communicate with them in real time; to conduct online meetings and to send out urgent information.
Microsoft said the new capabilities will be available in the next release of Exchange, later this year, and will be incorporated into other members of the Back Office server range over time.
It needed to move quickly on instant messaging since its arch rivals, Netscape and Lotus, have already licensed the best known product in the area, America Online's (AOL's) Instant Messenger, to offer with the products.
Before those deals, the AOL product - which was recently expanded to work with the Internet as well as the proprietary AOL online service - was largely the preserve of home users who were also AOL subscribers.
However, the interest of so many big software houses suggests this technology is about to become widespread in the corporate environment.
The next step to ensure it takes hold for "serious" business applications, rather than just chat, will be the release of standard application programming interfaces, said analysts.
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