Instant messaging is hardly kids' stuff. OK, it's pretty darn big with preteens and teens, but many businesses rely on those same text messaging services to communicate with co-workers, partners and vendors for those times when a phone call is overkill and an e-mail is too slow.
Many small businesses turn to free public IM networks such as America Online Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger or GoogleTalk for the same reasons the kids do: They're easy to use, pervasive and ... well ... they're free.
But there are drawbacks to using consumer-grade IM services in a business setting. Not only are there security issues, but you lose out on enterprise-level features such as archiving, collaboration and unified communications.
At the other end of the spectrum are real-time communications platforms such as Microsoft Office Communications Server and IBM Lotus Sametime, which bring real-big costs typically costing several thousand dollars to buy and maintain.
IBM is looking to convince you that now is the time to step away from public IM networks and turn to its Sametime platform. To help persuade you, Big Blue last week began shipping Lotus Sametime Entry, essentially a scaled-back version of its long-established real-time communications platform.
If you're looking to test the unified communications waters, IBM Lotus Sametime Entry is designed to provide an alternative to both public instant-messaging services and expensive software platforms. "Lotus Sametime Entry offers core IM capabilities and security [i.e., encryption and authentication]," according to Akiba Saidi, program director for unified communications and collaboration at IBM Lotus. To provide interoperability with your e-mail and network services, "it integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Active Directory and LDAP network directory services," she said.
Lotus Sametime Entry also includes multi-person chat, presence awareness, spell check, rich text capabilities, emoticon support and contact list management features, according to IBM Lotus. It also maintains your chat history, so you can keep a record of your discussions.
By adding presence capabilities to your Outlook e-mail, you can see who is available to collaborate and start a chat. You, of course, always have the option of setting your status to away, in a meeting or do not disturb.
The price for Lotus Sametime Entry is $20 per user with an annual maintenance cost of about 20 percent, Saidi said. "You own the license," Saidi said. "It's a simple fee. There's no extra licensing costs like Microsoft has."
If you want voice and video features or you need to communicate with users of AIM, Yahoo Messenger and so on, the company also just released Lotus Sametime Standard 8, which is "still appropriate for SMBs," Saidi said. She said the price for Lotus Sametime Standard is $57 per named user license.
Lotus Sametime Standard 8 adds federation with public IM networks, Web and video conferencing capabilities, mobile client support, and other features such as the following, according to IBM Lotus:
- Expanded platform support for IBM Lotus Domino 8 server and server support for VMWare environments.
- Extended mobile support including the Nokia E-series, Sony Ericsson and Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 devices.
- Point-to-point video capabilities for Macintosh users.
- Integration with Microsoft Office 2007.
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