The Armonk, N.Y.-based software and services vendor today announced that real-time collaboration platform Sametime 7.5 is available.
Sametime 7.5 features secure enterprise chat, Web conferencing and document-sharing capabilities.
Customers will also be able to drag charts derived from business intelligence applications into the chat window; the charts remain hooked up to their respective business applications and are updated in real time if the underlying data changes.
Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM Lotus Software, emphasized that this is not simply an upgrade from Sametime 7.0, but rather the birth of a new platform.
He said that there are already more than a dozen plug-ins from IBM partners available immediately, with more than a hundred more scheduled for release later this year.
The company can add so many new features so quickly, he said, because Sametime 7.5 was built on an open source Eclipse-based foundation, rather than with proprietary code.
That means Big Blue can benefit from the work of hundreds of partners rather than relying simply on its own developers.
The company demonstrated one plug-in from French-based Dassault Systemes (Quote, Chart), which allows users to not only drag a 3-D graphic into the chat interface, but also allows them to do 3-D rendering in the client itself.
Rhodin said that IBM will be providing a virtual partner showcase where customers can find examples of applications built by partners.
"It's the collaborative applications built on Notes that make the platform successful," he told internetnews.com.
IBM sees real-time collaboration as a huge opportunity for growth.
Because real-time collaboration involves so many disparate technology sectors, including VoIP, wireless and mobile devices and video conferencing, it's difficult to put a dollar figure on the market potential.
Rhodin said the platform represents a market opportunity of several tens of billions of dollars.
Forrester analyst Matthew Brown agreed with that assessment, while Gartner offered a much more conservative assessment earlier this year, putting the market at somewhere north of $1 billion.
Regardless of the exact dollar figure, IBM sees it as the jumping-off spot for its next phase of growth.
"We're using this launch as the next leg of our expansion," Rhodin told internetnews.com.
Microsoft has also announced several features of its own real-time collaboration tool, Office Communications Server, but doesn't intend to launch until sometime next year.
The two companies lock horns in several areas, including the asynchronous workplace collaboration space.
Brown said that Microsoft's SharePoint Server has been trouncing IBM's Workplace collaboration suite in recent months, going from 40 million licensed users in December 2005 to 70 million last June.
"Workplace has not seen that level of attraction," Brown told internetnews.com.