This Friday, Microsoft will unleash the first beta of its long-awaited Real-Time Communications (RTC) Server, code-named Greenwich. The product, which is designed to run on top of Windows Server 2003, will provide enterprises with instant messaging (IM) capabilities based on the same technology used by Windows Messenger. But Greenwich is designed to overcome limitations that stunted the growth of IM in the enterprise, with features that will enable IM security, logging and "follow-me" functionality.

"IM is a virtual network on top of the Internet and we haven't figured out how to leverage that yet," said Microsoft Product Unit Manager David Gurle, speaking at the Instant Messaging Planet Conference & Expo in Boston this week. "\[It's\] not about connecting terminals to terminals. What we've really created is a people-to-people Web." Gurle said that Greenwich's key feature is presence, where users can see when other users are online and able to communicate.

Greenwich is already seeing massive uptake with beta customers. Reuters has deployed the technology to over 250,000 users already, for customers such as Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch. The technology was originally slated to be part of Windows Server 2003, but Microsoft decided it needed a longer development cycle, and separated the technologies. The company hasn't yet announced pricing or final availability, but Greenwich will likely ship this year.