Update on ExtST – IBM’s external Sametime service

Those that follow me on Twitter, via this blog or have seen my comments on other blogs will know that I have had a significant issue with IBM’s external Sametime service for a number of years.  Also, may of you will be aware that I am not alone in this – other bloggers of note have made it very clear that IBM’s support for this service has fallen short.

How?

Well, ExtST.ibm.com is intended to be a Sametime community that anyone worldwide can connect to (customers, partners, analysts, press etc), simply by pointing their Sametime client or Notes-embedded Sametime client at extst.ibm.com (port 80, direct connection not HTTP) and logging in via their IBM ID and password (used for Partnerworld, Passport Advantage, trial downloads etc).  IBM users can then be added as contacts by entering their email addresses into the Add Contact dialog.  When it works, its brilliant – one can reach any IBMer that uses Sametime in real-time, with no gatekeepers, receptionists or additional information required.

Unfortunately, there have been plenty of issues along the way.  The service has been pretty unreliable with extended periods of outage, it has been stuck on an ancient version of Sametime (v3, believe it or not) and so most modern features of Sametime are not supported, and more importantly, the most recent versions of Sametime and Notes (particularly on Mac and Linux) have not been supported as the server is locked down to certain supported versions of the client.

So, its been a great service that has been massively hindered by lack of investment and support by the IBM organisation.

So, what’s changed?

I am pleased to say that whilst not every issue with the service has been corrected and will be perfect from this day forth, IBM has made a significant investment over the past two months into recognising the problems, listening to the users, and improving the system – I cannot over-emphasise the change I’ve seen from those that support this service – it is practically a 180degree turn in attitude toward the importance of the ExtST service.

Commitments have been made to bring the service up to the current release of Sametime in the short- to medium-term, and many more people within IBM and Lotus are aware of how important this service is to partners and customers alike.

‘That’s all very well’ I can hear you say, but what has actually been changed?

Well, as of the weekend just passed, both Lotus Sametime 8.0.2 and Lotus Notes 8.5.1 are officially enabled on the ExtST service.  Yes, that’s right! The current shipping versions of both Sametime and Notes are both enabled for access. Woohoo!  

On a personal level

I am very very pleased at IBM’s response at this time.  Whilst there is no doubt that there has been a lack of focus on this in the past, there are key IBMers (Matthew, Brandon and Jeri – that’s you…) working very very hard to improve the system now, and I appreciate all that they are doing.

For today, I can simply say that no longer will I have to run Sametime 8.0.0 on my Mac to keep access to ExtST – that alone is enough to make a grown man cry!

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!