Microsoft in Long-Awaited Unified Communications Launch

SAN FRANCISCO—It was back to the future for Microsoft yesterday. The company’s chairman and co-founder Bill Gates took the stage here to help launch the company’s Unified Communications (UC) software solution.

Gates told an audience of about 2,000 customers, partners, and media that office phone systems haven’t changed much in the 30 years. Putting aside advances in mobile phones, he said office phones have added a lot of buttons that people don’t know what to do with, and small screens that don’t provide a lot of information.
“At Microsoft, we spend $700 to give someone a new phone when they move offices, and it takes about a week,” Gates said. “It should be as simple as updating a name in a directory.”

Microsoft vice president of marketing, Kim Akers, said about 20,000 Microsoft employees change offices each year, representing a tremendous potential cost using conventional phone technology and practices

Simplifying such tasks is one of Microsoft’s goals for its new software-based “unified communications” (UC) solution, which centers around Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, a product that melds instant messaging with VoIP call routing, and “presence” features. Other key pieces of the Microsoft UC solution are:

  • Microsoft Office Communicator 2007—the software client that provides softphone functionality and surfaces all the messaging, presence, and other communications activity
  • Microsoft Live Meeting—a service that enables (and records) audio, video, and Web conferencing
  • Microsoft Round Table—a video conferencing system that incorporates a camera with a 360-degree panoramic view

“Eventually, the PBX goes away,” Gates said, discussing the hefty investments most companies have in their current PBX systems, and adding that OCS can complement those legacy systems to help smooth the transition.

Microsoft has, in fact, enlisted major PBX makers to support its initiative. Nortel Networks, Ericsson, and Mitel Networks all announced next-generation software applications that would build on Microsoft’s voice platform. Nortel already has numerous joint deployments with Microsoft to early customers.

In all, some 50 companies announced products and services that will work with Microsoft’s UC platform.

Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft’s Business division, expects a dramatic uptick in the adoption of unified communications technology. He said that “in the next three years, more than 100 million people will be able to click to communicate from within applications. He also predicted communications infrastructure costs will be half of what they are currently.

Adapted from an article.

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