Microsoft Dives Into Voice Communications

SAN FRANCISCO -- After years of dipping its toe in the waters of unified voice and data communications, Microsoft unveiled its Unified Communication Product Roadmap and Partner Ecosystem here today.

The product road map calls for changes to product lines to better integrate voice features with Microsoft's business software. It includes several new capabilities and name changes: Office Communications Server 2007 replaces Live Communications Server and adds presence-based VoIP call management, Web, audio, and videoconferencing to IM features.

Microsoft spelled out its plans to integrate e-mail, instant messaging, voice and video into a single platform that stretches across corporate applications and services.

The software, hardware and Web conferencing service are part of a family of products around Office 2007, which is slated to ship in November to corporate clients. The company plans to have betas of all the software by the end of 2006.

Microsoft made the announcements during a "Unified Communications Day" in San Francisco hosted by Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of Microsoft's unified communications group, and Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the real-time collaboration product group at Microsoft.

Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, a unified communications client for that server, will have a VoIP softphone and Web, audio, and video conferencing. A product called Exchange 2007 Unified Messaging will offer a unified e-mail and voice-mail inbox, and speech-based access. Microsoft will also update Live Meeting, adding VoIP, video, and e-learning support.

How It Might Work

One example of the potential for the new integrated products is Microsoft Office RoundTable, a reference design for an audio/video conference-room device with a 360-degree camera with video switching and beaming technology that can focus on active speakers.

Rather than replacing the corporate phone system or IP PBX, Microsoft is floating a unified communications architecture built on Active Directory and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). The company is also moving ahead with efforts to build voice and other communications directly into mainstream applications such as Office, CRM, and supply chain, according to Gartner analyst Bern Elliot.

"Microsoft has some failures behind it and recognizes that unified communications is a difficult area," Elliot said. "For now, they're not as much interested in replacing the IP PBX as they are in developing a new way to communicate."

Exchange server will ship in late 2006 or early in 2007, according to Microsoft. The other pieces will be available in the second quarter of 2007.

A number of major communications and PC makers, including Polycom, Quintum, GN Netcom, Motorola, HP, and Plantronics, issued press releases today announcing their support or involvement in various aspects of the Microsoft effort.

John Fontana of Network World contributed to this report.

This story, "Microsoft Dives Into Voice Communications" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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