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Lotus touts real-time products

The Sametime line of products will allow people to find others on the Web and to instantly communicate with them.

    Lotus Development is getting closer to adding instantaneous communication to its groupware product line.

    At Comdex/Fall 98 today, the IBM subsidiary said the first beta testing for its real-time product line will begin this week.

    Lotus Sametime is a family of real-time communication and collaboration products that allow people to find others on the Web, regardless of their location, and to instantly communicate and share documents or other visual information, the company said.

    The real-time client/server package can be purchased as a standalone, or as a complement to Lotus Notes and Domino 4.6, and 5. No pricing was made available.

    In a keynote address at Comdex today, Lotus CEO Jeff Papows described the new ability as part of a broader transition from asynchronous to synchronous, or real time, communications.

    "We will move by end of the year to concurrent model of synchronous information," Papows said.

    "By the beginning of next year, because of the propensity of multimedia PCs on the desktop in corporations, we will be able to do voice," he predicted. He said the next step will be to share objects over a network.

    Sametime Connect Client software, Sametime Server, and support for third-party will make up the new product offering from the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based software maker.

    Lotus said it developed Sametime with a focus on providing a real-time experience that flexibly and naturally leads users through spontaneous, information-sharing sessions. Sametime supports Lotus' new Knowledge Management strategy by facilitating people working in teams, networks, and it "communities" across the enterprise.

    Two key acquisitions
    Sametime's building blocks come from not only Cambridge, but south of the Mason Dixon and the Middle East as well.

    As reported earlier , backed by deep IBM pockets, Lotus purchased real-time software vendors Lexington, Kentucky-based DataBeam and Israeli-based Ubique. Under the terms of the agreement, the companies will be acquired by IBM and will become part of Lotus Communications Products Division. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

    Sametime is the result of the acquisitions, and the beta launch of the product today continues the company's efforts to bring real-time features to its email and collaboration packages. It combined application and data sharing from DataBeam and interaction tools such as chat, "buddy" awareness, and instant messaging from Ubique with its Notes and Domino groupware in future releases, beginning later this year.

    Lotus said the real-time features will be supported by joint work with industry partners, such as America Online. AOL was one of the investors from which Ubique will be purchased.

    Full set of real-time features
    Sametime's features are based on the fundamental characteristics of real-time collaboration, which include awareness, conversation, and shared objects.

    Conversation features within Sametime allows users to send instant messages and engage in online co-workers in a dialogue. Once users are aware of a colleagues' availability to talk, they can easily start a conversation using instant text messages or a chat session involving many people.

    Shared objects technology enables users to conduct online meetings and share live documents or applications with workgroups using clients such as Microsoft NetMeeting, Web browser or Lotus Notes. As a conversation progresses, shared object capabilities in Sametime allow users to move among application-sharing within a single session. Users can share applications, like word processing, spreadsheets and project management software, without requiring others to have that software installed.

    Sametime today is available for public beta for download off of the Sametime site. International English, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish versions will ship November 20. The final Sametime 1.0 product family is scheduled to ship by the end of the year and feature support for Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish languages.

    News.com's Tim Clark contributed to this report.