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Greenwich Reaches Beta Testing Stage

Microsoft put its server technology for real-time communications, such as instant messaging, out for a broad public beta test on Thursday. Code-named Greenwich, the technology was originally planned to be a part of Windows Server 2003. Last year, Microsoft pulled the technology out of the base server and announced that it would ship later.

Greenwich is currently on track for a mid-2003 commercial release sometime after the April 24 launch of Windows Server 2003, says Ed Simnett, Microsoft's lead product manager for real-time communications.

It remains unclear whether Microsoft will offer Greenwich as an add-on technology to Windows Server 2003 or deliver it as a discrete server with its own price tag, along the lines of Exchange Server or Mobile Information Server. "We haven't made any final productization comments yet," says Simnett, who expects the number of beta testers to range from the hundreds to the low thousands but not to exceed 10,000.

Microsoft releases the technology into a competitive landscape that includes IBM Lotus SameTime, Microsoft's own Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server, enterprise instant messaging services from Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo! and the free, unmanaged consumer clients from Yahoo!, AOL and Microsoft that corporate knowledge workers are adopting on their own.

Microsoft appears most excited about pushing Greenwich as a platform to spread employee presence status to other applications.

"That core presence capability we think is interesting for instant messaging. It's also interesting for a wide variety of business applications," Simnett says. "We're giving people the ability to add that presence information into other applications, such as SharePoint, team Web sites and Outlook. When you receive an e-mail from someone, you'll see whether that person is still available."

Microsoft also plans to build up from instant messaging to support peer-to-peer voice and video communications, peer-to-peer collaboration, whiteboarding and help sessions.

By standardizing corporate instant messaging communication on a Windows Server 2003 server, Microsoft allows companies to get a handle on employee-to-employee communication, which has security benefits, presents a standard way of finding coworkers instant messaging usernames and is required by law in some industries. Greenwich-based users could be managed through the Active Directory.

The first version will only allow corporate users to find presence information for and communicate with other employees or contractors from the same company. Simnett says federation capabilities will be added later.

In a bulletin published Thursday by Ferris Research, analysts Michael Sampson and Nick Shelness said that Greenwich marks a move within Microsoft away from the ITU's H.323 protocol used in NetMeeting and the Exchange Conferencing server to the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

"Microsoft strongly believes that the future belongs to SIP, and the ascendancy of Greenwich reflects that belief. In the long term, Microsoft are certainly correct. In the short term, they are going to put their user base through a lot of pain, especially those customers who committed to the Exchange Conferencing server," the Ferris analysts wrote.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.