IBM and Cisco have teamed up to offer a single platform for communications systems, but the partnership will come up against competition from Microsoft.

The companies' platform, called UC2 (Unified Communication and Collaboration), is intended to entice developers to design communications services for the enterprise, making it easier than using a pot-pouri of multi-vendor products.

The platform will be based on Eclipse and OSGi (Open Services Gateway initiative) technologies. said IBM and Cisco at the Spring 2007 VoiceCon conference in Florida.

The two companies are planning a series of joint products built using an open set of APIs from Lotus's Sametime collaboration application and communication APIs from Cisco. These include click-to-call and voice mail integration which will allow Sametime users to send instant messages to and from Cisco Unified IP phones. Other joint products will provide federated presence information, call history conferencing, and video telephony.

The federated presence system will take information stored in Cisco's IP network, such as availability and location, and share that information with a Sametime client.

"If you are looking at a Sametime client, you can see if the phone is not busy and if the person is in, say, building 21 on the third floor," said Barry O'Sullivan, vice president of IP communications at Cisco.

According to Adam Gartenberg, offering manager for the UC2 Software division of IBM Lotus Software Group, the growth of unified communications services has been impeded by the lack of a consistent programming environment. He said the ubiquity of Eclipse will encourage its large community of developers to design communications services that extend the client capabilities of ERP and CRM applications to remote users.

"The UC2 platform is extensible, allowing developers to create plug-ins or mini applications to access applications remotely," said Gartenberg.

For example, a developer might extend an expense approval application in SAP by creating an applet that makes it available through instant messaging.

Some companies appear eager to see what unified communications can do for them. Ray Repic, chief technical architect at Coca-Cola Enterprises, says he likes the idea of using his existing technology to offer more functionality. Repic already uses Lotus SameTime and Cisco's IP telephony.

"There's nothing we need to purchase," said Repic, adding that he is eager to get it into Coca Cola's prototyping lab: "We need to understand how we can use voice as an application," Repic said.

Cisco said it will develop future versions of its Unified Personal Communicator on the UC2 client. The companies also promised a certification program for systems developed on UC2.

However, despite the cooperation between the two companies, analysts see Microsoft - which announced a beta of its OFfice Communications Server VoIP product at the same event - as the elephant in the room. "The unified communications battle will come down to Cisco versus Microsoft," said Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala. Some users have held off on the technology because they are waiting to see what Microsoft will do with it, he said.

Meanwhile, Nortel Networks, which last year announced a partnership with Microsoft in this area, hasn't ended up with much of an advantage that other telephony vendors don't have, Kerravala said.