Sametime 1.5 moves beyond instant messaging

The advantages of an instant messaging system are obvious, especially in busy agencies where information workers spend most of their day in front of a computer, often needing to coordinate work with a colleague who may be thousands of miles away. Version 1.5 of Lotus Sametime expands on the theme of instant messaging to create instant meetings, adding application sharing, real-time conferencing and other collaboration features to the basic messaging capability.

The Sametime server component installs on Microsoft Corp. Windows NT Server 4.0 (with Service Pack 3 or higher). Sametime includes its own World Wide Web server, so if you have another Web server running, such as Microsoft's Internet Information Server, you will want to disable it before starting the installation process. Sametime works either in conjunction with a Lotus Domino or Notes server or in a stand-alone fashion. The installation process does require a reboot, so be prepared if you are installing on a production server.

To access Sametime, users need either Netscape Communication Corp.'s Navigator 4.06 or Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 or later. Users logged on to the Sametime server appear in the client window, indicating that they are available for individual chatting or participation in a group discussion. Although a user's name in the client window is no guarantee that he is actually sitting in front of the computer, it's better than playing phone tag or waiting for an e-mail response.

While installing Sametime in the Web-only case makes all the instant communication functionality possible, integration with a Domino server makes available a host of additional features. With Sametime and Domino, you can take advantage of the built-in database, replication and security features that Domino provides. You also can add instant messaging to the e-mail and document library that interoperate with the Sametime server.

Regardless of the way you configure the program, Sametime provides community, meeting and Web application services. Community services form the basis of all interaction with the Sametime server. Version 1.5 enables users to self-register by creating a Person document on the server. To participate in specific groups, the administrator must add specific users to a community or group to share information within that group. The community service facilitates user awareness (seeing if someone else is logged on), user-to-user chats or group discussions. Meeting services extend the community services to offer application sharing or whiteboard meetings. One feature that stands out is the ability to save a transcript of all discussions that take place using Sametime.

Application sharing adds a new dimension to the concept of instant messaging. Sametime 1.5 supports sharing either a single window, a selected portion of the screen or the entire screen. To initiate an application sharing meeting, one user selects the portion of his screen to share and then invites other users to participate. All participating users see the shared application inside a browser window on their computer. A whiteboard meeting functions essentially the same way, with one user initiating the session while the remaining users simply watch.

Sametime employs Java extensively on the client. For adequate performance you'll need a workstation with enough CPU horsepower and memory to efficiently execute fairly complex Java applets. You also will need something more than a dial-up modem connection if you expect to do any significant amount of application sharing. We found the product's performance more than adequate using Intel Corp. Pentium 200 MHz-class machines connected on a 10M local-area network.

A browser-based server administration tool provides insight into how the Sametime server is performing. By using Sametime and Web server log files, it's easy to build a pretty good picture of your server's performance. The administration tool also manages security and related issues like Secure Sockets Layer. Sametime 1.5 provides full support for SSL 2.0 and 3.0 connections. Sametime works in conjunction with a proxy server and firewall to manage connections to and from the Internet.

Other new features in version 1.5 include enhanced security protocol support including Hypertext Transport Protocol Secure, SOCKS4 and SOCKS5, as well as support for users of America Online's Instant Messenger service. Lotus also has enhanced the administration and performance monitoring tools.

The basic package comes with electronic documentation in Portable Document Format. An administrator's guide covers all the aspects of administering a Sametime server. You could print it out if you don't like to read documents on the computer, or you can purchase printed documentation for an extra cost. The online client help provides the information necessary to accomplish the basic tasks supported by the system.

Sametime is not a full substitute for face-to-face meetings, but it does help encourage better group communication in situations where face-to-face meetings are not practical. The server portion seems a little pricey, but many agencies could recover this quickly if it saved them a few out-of-town trips.

Ferrill, based at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is a principal engineer at Avionics Test & Analysis Corp. He can be reached at pferrill@fwb.gulf.net.

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Sametime 1.5

Lotus Development Corp.

(617) 577-8500

www.lotus.com

Price and AvailabilityAvailable on the open market at $5,000 for the server and $20 per client user.

RemarksSametime expands the instant messaging capability to facilitate instant meetings. Groups can participate in scheduled or impromptu meetings without leaving their desks. Security features make it possible to use the Internet to connect to geographically diverse users. Basic functionality is possible in a Web-only installation, but you get additional value when used in conjunction with Lotus Domino or Notes.

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