Microsoft Corp. will begin shipping its real-time communications RTC Server 2003 software in the third quarter as the company moves to capture a share of the enterprise instant messaging (IM) and collaboration market.

"We will begin shipping the English-language version in the third quarter, with the German and Japanese versions to follow around two weeks later," said Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of the real-time collaboration group at Microsoft, Thursday at a real-time communications technology event co-hosted by Siemens AG in Munich. "We will announce pricing in June."

The software represents Microsoft's push into presence-based applications, which show when users are online and available to communicate.

RTC Server 2003 will replace Microsoft's Exchange 2000 server technology, according to Andrew Sinclair, group program manager in Microsoft's real-time collaboration group. It will run on top of Windows Server 2003, he said.

A major feature of RTC Server software, according to Gupta, is security, which comes in direct response to customer demands. Chief information officers (CIOs), especially those at banks, have voiced many security concerns about IM services, he said: "Our product is designed to address these concerns."

The server, based on SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions) standards, offers several security features, including encrypted messaging and logging and archiving of instant messages.

The IM functionality of RTC Server 2003 includes data collaboration, PC-to-PC voice and video.

Microsoft is collaborating with Siemens to develop applications that integrate telephony services.

IM is growing at record rates, according to Sinclair. The worldwide market is currently about 200 million users and is expected to grow to 500 million by 2006, he said. Enterprise IM users will grow from about 5 percent to 70 percent over that period.