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Can iSight, iChat Catch Enterprise IM Wave?

By Blane Warrene MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jul 21, 2004 2:10 PM PT

Apple's recent preview of Tiger, the next generation of its OS X operating system, at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco invested considerable time showing off new iChat and iSight capabilities for instant messaging (IM).

Can iSight, iChat Catch Enterprise IM Wave?

iChat, first introduced in 2002, brought instant messaging to the Macintosh community for .Mac account holders and included certified connectivity to AOL's instant messaging network. iChat AV, released in 2003 for OS X Panther (10.3), enables users to communicate via audio, video and text, including AOL AIM 5.5 users on Windows, minus support for audio chats. Users of Jaguar, the previous release of OS X, can purchase iChat AV from Apple for $29.99.

Tiger will expand iChat AV's support for conferencing to 10 simultaneous users using audio or to four users for video conferencing.

iSight, Apple's FireWire Web camera also introduced in 2003 at the WWDC, works in conjunction with iChat AV and provides video conferencing capability leveraging iChat's use of QuickTime's audio and video processing. The iSight mounts on any Macintosh system and includes a built-in microphone with noise reduction capabilities. iSight retails for $149.99 from Apple and authorized resellers.

Expected in early 2005, Tiger will feature support for the H.264 video codec (compression-decompression algorithm) in QuickTime that boasts an increase in video quality for users of iChat and will also debut iChat Server, enabling companies to run behind-the-firewall' instant messaging environments for users.

This will include internal IM connections run across virtual private networks, according to Tom Goguen, Apple's director of servers and storage.

Convergence of Communications

Apple is joining many other companies riding on a wave of convergence between collaboration and communication, according to META Group senior vice president and principal analyst Mike Grotta. These changes will affect small business and enterprise.

"Right now, the primary method remains live meetings or using the phone with conferencing," Grotta said. "However, the expectation to incorporate audio and video over corporate networks is rising," he said.

Scott Daniels, utility director for the City of Dover, Ohio, told MacNewsWorld certain elements of city employees have used IM on the job. However the city has not begun formalizing any messaging initiatives.

"We had superintendents using ICQ to communicate with each other, however, much of those communications have shifted back to email," Daniels said. "Our departments are spread out over several miles. Some sort of IM or even video-conferencing makes sense."

Grotta said this reflects the challenge IT managers face in introducing formal IM into business environments.

"Instant messaging is a new application model," he added. "IT managers want to have a common backbone in their infrastructure for communications perhaps as convenient as e-mail."

Mahon Studios, a design firm in Canal Fulton, Ohio, allows its staff to communicate with clients using IM. However, they have not yet established formal procedures for use.

"We will occasionally chat with clients and do save the transcripts, especially when related to deadlines. However, some clients are not yet savvy enough to use it as a primary communication method," Paul Troyer, IT manager at Mahon, said.

Crowded Playing Field

Grotta said he believes these stories show that the IM market remains fractured and balkanized. Numerous companies including Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Sun have or are introducing IM applications for business users.

Grotta's research at META shows Microsoft may be taking the lead in the grab for business market share through its Microsoft Office Live Communication Server (LCS), which now has deals with AOL and Yahoo to create an IM bridge to those networks and its MSN messaging community.

The LCS is expected to emerge during the fourth quarter of 2004. However, unified messaging across the public networks is not expected before 2006. It is not clear if the MSN Messenger client for OS X will benefit from the new capabilities.

In an interview with MacNewsWorld, an AOL spokesperson clarified the communications agreement AOL holds with Microsoft for the LCS and said it includes iChat users.

"By default since iChat users can communicate on AOL's network, Mac users who access IM users through the LCS will have those same capabilities," the spokesperson said.

AOL has one of the dominant public IM networks, accounting for more than 100 million users internationally via AOL subscribers, 36 million and 30 million on AIM and ICQ, respectively, and iChat users.

Protocols and Interoperability

For his part, Grotta sees the challenges at the protocol level. Basic interoperability may not be difficult since many use the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), including AOL Yahoo and Apple's iChat.

"It is the programming layer that extends the base IM protocol and enables rich collaboration through audio, video and other functions that varies across IM vendor camps," Grotta said.

However, this will also help companies to develop technology that can serve as gateways to bridging the various networks together, according to Grotta's research. Vendors with standards incapable of communicating would then be brought together.

"I have not seen any broad mandates to deploy rich messaging in any large environments, however, the interest is rising," Grotta said. "Since conferencing is absolutely central to all communications and collaboration, maturing instant messaging may be the killer app that launches widespread adoption," he said.

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