Google is in the mix now with their own IM client -- including voice traffic. Why? Why not? Its easy now. All you need is plenty of bandwidth and some big servers. Pretty much all the connection protocols, encoders (CODECS), and so on are available now as standards. There are even good commercial and open source stacks which implement most of them. I know, I'm using several in the current project I'm working on it. Making an IM community client would be trivial with the stuff available now.
Tell me then, how IBM or Microsoft wish to make money with their products. SIP servers and CODECS are pretty much a commodity item now, so where is the value add? Is it in screen sharing, group calendaring, and online meeting processes? Aren't these too headed for comoditzation? Isn't their very commodity nature the thing which makes them most powerful -- that ability to join people in these meetings who aren't necessarily part of the same infrastructure?
I'm sure there are some customers who require special items like secure logging and so on -- but it seems to me that is something best done at the network layer anyway. Just scoop the data up as it goes by the routers (true, switches make that a little more challenging, but not hugely so).
Instant message itself is not the real battle here. For both IBM and Microsoft both, a solid communications infrastructure provided by Sametime, Live Communication Server, or Workplace Collaboration Services is going to be critical -- but not as an instant messaging platform. Its critical because it will provide the session control and data pipeline for traffic between developed applications (in Workplace Designer or Visual Studio respectively) and a back end secure storage mechanism (DB2 & Domino, SQL Server & Infopath).
From here, the key development paths a few years out look like this (not in order of preference, necessarily) -- I'm sure I'll get comments and updates, many quite insightful and accurate. I'll add this in another font to indicate that they've been added, so as not to spoil the context of the original.
Andrew's Prediction* of Likely Development Platforms - 2007 - 2008 Timeframe
* of course things change, particularly product names -- but largely this is the way I see it looking
Front End Development
Session & Data Pipeline
Back End Logic
MYSQL, Other RDB's
IBM / Lotus
Lotus Domino Designer
IBM Workplace Designer
IBM Workplace Collaboration Services
(J2EE) Websphere, Workplace & Portal
Both also as JSR170 repositories
Live Communications Server
Please wait while your document is saved.