About 60 million people tap IM for business use worldwide, estimates IT and telecom research firm IDC. The latest business IM packages boost security and integrate smoothly, but most striking is how they exploit "presence" information--adopting the familiar IM "buddy list" notices to speed work. Microsoft's Istanbul, available by mid-2005, is one poster child for integrating presence information. "We see presence and IM as a first logical step into a broader world of real-time collaboration," says Ed Simnett, Istanbul lead product manager.
Istanbul keeps tabs on whether your contacts are available online, by internet or by conventional phone, explains Simnett. If they're not available, you can "tag" them and get a notice when they're ready for action. Moreover, users fine-tune how they appear to each of their contacts--for instance, you may decide to be interrupted only by your spouse or your best customer.
While Istanbul primarily targets enterprises, ASAP, a hosted service offered by Convoq of Lexington, Massachusetts, is among new presence-aware collaborative offerings that target small and midsize firms. ASAP lets you build a unified contact list for key colleagues and partners no matter what IM system they're on. You can also set up IM contacts by groups rather than individuals.
More conveniently, you can embed ASAP instant-collaboration links in your e-mail, blog or website. Then, anyone with Macromedia's Flash player can click on your link and jump into a full-featured web conferencing session with you.