Realtime Gold Rush

Microsoft partisans imagine a day when business users get realtime pings on their Office desktop software whenever their ERP systems detect inventories below a certain level. Beneath the covers, that simple-looking alert will rely on a confluence of technologies, including Office desktop applications, Microsoft's planned "Maestro" realtime reporting server and a back-end SharePoint Portal/Excel Server combination.

One partner familiar with Microsoft's plans foresees a time when an Excel "server" tied to a SharePoint Portal Server would facilitate embedded analytics.

"You'd set up an Excel model on the desktop, export it to the server, bind it to a [database] or, via Maestro, to an application source," he said. "The model runs constantly on the server, feeding updated dashboard data via new Office 12 tools or a [business intelligence] tool. Or [it can] send you an e-mail or an instant-messaging or a VoIP call." Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., declined to comment.

Of course, such capability would require a massive buy into the Microsoft stack, particularly a range of as-yet-unannounced server software. In the near term, Microsoft and IBM Software's Lotus group are racing to tie instant messaging and presence awareness more deeply into their bread-and-butter offerings. In June, Microsoft plans to ship its new Communicator IM client that integrates presence into Exchange and Outlook's calendaring functions. That would, for example, allow users to let someone on their buddy list automatically see that they're in a meeting at a given time, a Microsoft spokesman said.

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Communicator also is expected to add realtime voice capabilities over internal phone systems when paired with appropriately updated PBXes.

Lotus Workplace Collaboration Services 2.5, due to ship this quarter, has an Activity Explorer feature that assigns presence to on-screen documents or files and lets a workgroup record shared conversations and collaborations, said Akiba Saeedi, manager of IBM Workplace collaboration products, at Lotusphere in January.

"It's been hard for the vendors to add features and functionality that are new enough to spur upgrades," said Melanie Turek, senior vice president at Nemertes Research, Chicago.

Turek said Lotus took an initial lead in realtime communication with early integration of instant messaging into its applications. "The problem is that most office workers spend a lot of their time in Microsoft Office, so Microsoft has an edge. Microsoft has also made it clear that it will open up presence information to other presence vendors like AOL and Yahoo," she said.