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IBM on Monday stepped up its fight to win business customers from Microsoft by announcing plans to make its Lotus business software suite compatible with several popular internet chat platforms.

The move would allow users of IBM’s Lotus Sametime chat program to connect with users of popular instant messaging programs such as AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and Google Talk.

Business chat has emerged as an important target market for IBM and Microsoft. But adoption of chat as a business tool has been limited as customers wrestle with compatability issues and security and compliance concerns.

“In today’s increasingly global economy, the speed of business has increased dramatically, which has made real-time collaboration tools a critical aspect of daily work life,” IBM said. “Customers increasingly rely on tools such as instant messaging, web conferencing and other real-time technologies to share knowledge and quickly react to market changes and opportunities.”

Sean Poulley, vice-president of business development at IBM’s Lotus division, said the move would allow users of its Lotus Sametime messaging system to chat with more than 100m users of public chat networks. IBM claims about 15m instant messaging customers. IBM has faced fierce competition in the business collaboration market from Microsoft, whose Outlook/Exchange software package is a direct competitor with Lotus.

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