Microsoft Mounts Massive Communications Program

By the middle of next year, all the pieces should be in place to deliver customers a unified business communications platform based on Microsoft client and server tools.

The announcement, by the president of Microsoft’s Business Division, Jeff Raikes, came yesterday at an event in San Francisco.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “unified communications” embraces IP phone, voicemail, video, e-mail, fax, instant messaging, and various forms of audio, video, and web conferencing in a single platform.

Microsoft’s vision combines upgrades of some of its heavyweight server products, new client software, and contributions from a vast “ecosystem” of technology partners that encompasses service providers and telecom hardware and infrastructure vendors—including HP, Motorola, Siemens, and LG-Nortel.

Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 will unify e-mail, voicemail, and faxing along with a speech-based attendant allowing users to access their communications from any device.

Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 will enable VoIP calls, videoconferencing, and IM traffic across existing applications and services.

Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 client software works with Office Communications Server to provide a VoIP softphone that connects to the MSN, AOL, and Yahoo IM services. Communicator will also power IP desktop phones from Polycom, LG-Nortel, and Thomson Telecom.

Microsoft Office Live Meeting will include VoIP capabilities, increased video and audio features and better integration with Microsoft Office.

But the unified communications push isn’t all software. Microsoft also announced its Office Communications Server will combine with a 360-degree camera for Microsoft Office Roundtable conferences.

Makers of Communicator 2007-compatible peripheral devices—USB handsets, wireless USB headsets, webcams, PC monitors and the like—will include Logitech, Motorola, Plantronics, Samsung, GN Netcom ,and Tatung.

For all the drama and the sheer magnitude of the announcement (we saw nine separate press releases), we wonder about the viability of this grand vision. “Basically, this is same old, same old, but bundled,” said Joe Wilcox, analyst with JupiterResearch.

Wilcox isn’t sure Cisco and other VoIP players are shaking in their boots over Microsoft’s entrance in the area. “This is not an area in which Microsoft has experience,” Wilcox said.

Adapted from an story by Ed Sutherland

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