Microsoft to Update Communications Server

Microsoft plans to release a new version of its Office Communications Server (OCS) by the latter half of 2010, according to Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Unified Communications Group.

The new version of the software will include new features such as Enhanced 911 (e911), deeper integration with Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and Microsoft Exchange 2010, as well as enhanced voice recognition capabilities.

The new software hasn't been officially given a name yet, though Microsoft's official working name is Communications Server '14.' Pall did not say what the 14 stands for.

OCS is software that provides instant messaging, Internet telephony, video conferencing, presence notification and other communications capabilities to large organizations.

When connected to a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) trunk or a PSTN (public switched telephone network), OCS can replace an office's PBX (private branch exchange) equipment. That can cut the costs of long-distance calls and telephony in general, Pall argued.

"This is a complete VoIP [voice over Internet Protocol] solution," he said.

One new feature is e911, which allows a user, no matter where they are located, to dial 911 and get local assistance.

Another new feature is call parking, or the ability to put a call on hold and then resume the call from any other phone on the system.

The Communicator client has been simplified and outfitted with new features as well, Pall said. When integrated with Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, the client can offer a deeper level of search. Previously, users could search the internal directories for names, but now they can search for expertise and knowledge areas as well, he said.

The software uses the SharePoint directories to harvest this expertise data. Once you find an expert, you can call them directly from the desktop, using a USB headset. For the recipient of the call, the area of expertise serves as the subject line of the incoming call notification.

Using speech recognition software, the Communicator client can also transcribe voice mails so they can be read on screen.

Speaking at the VoiceCon2010 conference in Orlando on Wednesday, Pall expressed optimism for the growing adoption of unified communications, or the ability to intermingle multiple forms of communications.

Microsoft cites a February 2009 Forrester Research report that predicts that the software market for unified communications will grow to US$14.5 billion by 2015.

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