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Microsoft brings Office to business IM

The software maker says its new corporate messaging software will sport the Office moniker, as the company appeals to business buyers.

Microsoft on Tuesday added the Office moniker to its upcoming enterprise instant-messaging software in a branding move intended to heighten the product's appeal to potential business buyers.

The software giant said the application will now be called Office Real-Time Communications Server 2003. The branding change comes nearly two months after the company said the product would be called Real-Time Communications Server 2003. The software was developed under the code-name Greenwich.

RTC Server will have one principal function when it is released in the summer: convincing businesses about the merits of enterprise instant messaging. Microsoft is trying to sell a secure IM client to companies already using its server software.

Enterprise instant messaging has become a new market that technology heavyweights such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, America Online and Yahoo are all scrambling to dominate.

The interest stems from instant messaging's grassroots proliferation in the workplace. Since IM allows real-time exchange of text messages between people, the technology has become a popular way for employees to communicate with one another and with business contacts. This has posed a conundrum for industries that embrace IM's effectiveness while fearing the difficulty of managing the security of its communications flow.

Leaders in consumer instant messaging like AOL, Microsoft's MSN and Yahoo, which have amassed hundreds of millions of nonpaying users, all have launched enterprise IM products. And established software vendors, including Microsoft, IBM and Sun, are using their inroads into corporate technology departments to sell their own products.

While Microsoft hopes companies will use RTC Server to set up their corporate IM networks, the company has loftier ambitions for the software. Company executives, including Chairman Bill Gates, are touting RTC Server as a platform for communications features such as Net phone calls and videoconferencing. The company is hoping RTC Server will be the bridge between PCs and telephones.