"Whether through the back door or introduced as a new communications tool by a progressive IT manager, instant messaging is making its way onto corporate desktops as a quick and easy way for employees to share information internally. Instant-messaging vendors, aware of their unintentional entry into corporate environments, are trying to extend the functions of their popular consumer services to the enterprise by addressing security and file sharing issues."
When Lotus introduced SameTime about three years ago, they thought they’d beat Microsoft because there was no real support of synchronous communications on Exchange Server. And I remember Pete Higgins demonstrating a beta of MSN Messenger during a company meeting in the summer of ’98, but the product wouldn’t ship for a year. Think of this: they only launched it two years ago.
With all the focus on messaging and groupware (Lotus Notes was the competitor to beat from 1996 to 1998), Microsoft didn’t really seem to "get" IM. It was already hard enough to switch mindset and focus from X.400 to Internet standards. Back in 1996 the only Microsoft POP3 client came with Microsoft Plus (yes, the silly addon for Windows 95). Outlook and Outlook Express only appeared in 1997 (Exchange Server 4.0 came with separate inbox and calendar clients inherited from the MS-Mail era) so e-mail was an uphill battle in itself, and I guess Internet instant messaging came on the radar later (they already had basic LAN IM with Winpopup).
Microsoft had acquired Hotmail but they let AOL grab Mirabilis (which also looks like an interesting accounting case). Now MSN Messenger is catching up fast, and if it successfully supersedes NetMeeting, it can grow into quite a good piece of software. These programs need one-click firewall compliance though, because they can be a hell to get up-and-running from within a corporate network.
Microsoft is like a DDoS on top of TCP/IP. It’s always starting slow and clumsy, but once its target is identified, it can flood you before you know what’s happening.
I only recently grasped why IM is so important. It’s the ideal client for push, and it knows who you are. E-mail is intrusive. The browser tries to be a push client, but it’s not there yet. Be it one or the other, you have to bring that big window on top of what you were doing to read it. Your IM client just sits there in your task bar. It can send you a little notice that will appear for a few seconds and fade out, so it’s perfect for multi-tasking, wheras e-mail requires task switching.
Spyonit can send notifications to your IM [*], and so does MoneyCentral. I’m sure there are lots others, and it’s only beginning. How about RSS headlines? Locking IM up is not the answer.
12/09/01 update: The Event-Driven Internet.
12/18/01 update: Microsoft .NET Alerts (works with MSN Money and Calendar services so far).
12/21/01 update: Can IM Graduate to Business?
01/10/02 update: AOL’s "Alerts" resembles .Net’s beginnings.
12/06/02 update: "attentional UI".
05/21/03 update: [MS Research] Providing Awareness of Multiple Notifications at a Glance.
[*] Or rather used to, as it has fallen off the face of the earth.