Sun Microsystems, which has been quietly working on an instant messaging component for its iPlanet e-commerce software, will debut the product at an Oct. 22 event, sources said.
As previously reported, Sun has been working on instant messaging software designed for corporate users. The software is designed not merely for chatting among employees but also for taking actions such as approving purchase orders or looking up a colleague with a specific skill, Marge Breya, vice president of the Sun One initiative, said in an interview Thursday.
"Where we see instant messaging going is the central nervous system of the enterprise," Breya said.
At the end of the October event, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun will focus on a variety of software plans underway at Sun as it tries to expand its sales strategy from servers to high-level software. The company is aligning its software around its Sun One initiative to enable computing tasks to run on a self-assembling collection of servers in an effort to retrieve some of the Internet leadership Microsoft wrestled away.
Instant messaging figures prominently in Microsoft's plans as well, in particular its consumer-oriented .Net My Services (formerly called "HailStorm") plan and its business-oriented "Blizzard" sequel. For example, instant messaging is a component of software that can alert people of events such as auction bids.
Sun also faces AOL Time Warner's popular AOL Instant Messenger package and Yahoo Instant Messenger, designed for ordinary computers users but widespread in businesses as well. IBM also has instant messing software for corporations, as do a host of smaller companies.
Instant messaging has brought to light many features that are useful for communications within a company, said Wes Wasson, vice president of infrastructure product marketing for iPlanet. For example, instant messaging can be used to indicate the user's availability, personal information such as phone numbers, location, or profiles such as area of expertise.
But knowing those characteristics is useful for other functions besides chatting, Wasson said. Sun is building "hooks" into other iPlanet software, such as calendars or e-mail, so those programs also can use that information. Sun calls status, location, profiles and other descriptions "microservices."
Sun declined to say exactly how instant messaging would fit into the iPlanet suite. But the company has high expectations for the product.
"I think it's going to be a killer application and take messaging to the next level," Breya said.
Others were more cautious.
"It's unclear how the corporate utilization of instant messaging is going to work out," said Technology Business Research analyst Jim Garden. "E-mail does a pretty good job, and people typically want some record of the transaction. "
Sun's instant messaging software is based on an instant messaging package called NetLert from SoftBase Systems, Burton Group analyst Jim Kobielus has said.
Beta versions of the Sun instant messaging program included the ability to set up chat rooms, forward messages to cell phones, poll users and compile their responses, broadcast messages to particular groups, and find employee information in Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) lists.