Microsoft Plans Unified Communications Platform

(newsfactor.com) - Microsoft is extending a hand to businesses looking to establish some order among the various real-time communications technologies at their disposal. The Redmond, Washington, software company is introducing a unified communications strategy that extends far beyond the desktop to include mobile phones and other devices.

Microsoft is bringing several hardware partners on board to help create the unified communications platform that will reach across e-mail, instant messaging, mobile and VoIP calling, and video conferencing to help improve collaboration in business settings, reports Trend.

One example of this technology in action will be workers able to use their PCs to see which of their colleagues are available for a Web-based video conference. Those that are available, no matter their location, can be invited to participate in a virtual meeting.

Business in Real-Time

On the software side, the strategy is based on Microsoft products including Communications Server, Exchange Server, Outlook, and Speech Server. Exchange Server 2007 will serve as the foundation for e-mail, voice mail, and fax functions, as well as for capabilities that allow users to access their messages remotely from any telephone.

An agreement with mobile device manufacturer Motorola will let enterprises connect and share business information anytime, anywhere through devices such as the Windows Mobile-based Motorola Q smartphone and the Motorola HC700 series computing hardware.

While the unified communications concept is not new, companies like Cisco, Avaya, and others are taking a closer look at linking messaging, telephony, and multimedia functions. "This is a new way to conduct business, and companies are moving closer to the real-time world with access to customers, colleagues, and partners," said Yankee Group analyst Carrie MacGillivray.

Particularly noteworthy, she said, is extending the Communications Server software to mobile devices so that people can conduct an instant-messaging session while on the move and at the same time access their office productivity applications on the handheld.

Collaboration Is Key

Software-based collaboration is key, noted Forrester Research analyst Erica Driver, with companies increasingly interested in providing easier access to their communications systems via text messaging or VoIP.

Microsoft also is taking a closer look at PC peripherals, such as USB-connected handsets, webcams, and PC monitors with built-in video capabilities, and has already established ties with hardware manufacturers to support the forthcoming Microsoft Office Communicator 2007.

Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox suggested that in connecting its various communications software products into a single platform, Microsoft hopes to boost sales among its installed user base by adding a few new features to the existing portfolio.

"This is not about individual products; it's about getting customers to upgrade their software and drive the sales of Microsoft server systems," he said.

Exchange Server 2007 should be delivered later this year or early 2007. Communications Server 2007, Communicator 2007, and IP-enabled phones are scheduled to launch in the second quarter of 2007.

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