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Microsoft outlines broad unified communications strategy

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June 26, 2006 03:01 PM ET - Microsoft Monday laid out its strategy for unified communications, spelling out its plans to integrate e-mail, instant messaging, voice and video into a single platform that stretches across corporate applications and services.

The company laid out upgrades and a roadmap for its current software lineup and introduced a hardware product called Office RoundTable, formerly code-named Ring Cam, an audio conference room phone with a 360-degree camera for online meetings.

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.

Microsoft did not announce any new software, but did change the name of its instant messaging and presence software from Live Communications Server to Office Communications Server 2007.

The other pieces of the puzzle include Exchange Server 2007, the Office Communicator 2007 client including a version for phones, and the Office Live Meeting 2007 Web conferencing service.

Microsoft said all the upgraded and new real-time communications software, hardware and services would be available in the second quarter of 2007. The company plans to have betas of all the software by the end of the year.

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.

Earlier this year, Microsoft merged its Exchange group and real-time collaboration group to form the unified communications group.

Microsoft’s intent is to provide users with a single platform for real-time communications that can be integrated with traditional desktop and network applications, mobile devices and the business processes that run across all three.

“This is a bold move,” says Mike Gotta, an analyst with the Burton Group. “Microsoft’s focus is on the bigger game, rather than cherry-picking some real-time communications features.”

Gotta says the potential exists to change the way corporate users think about deploying real-time communications, which is becoming increasingly important in an online world.

“They are talking about one big architectural domain," Gotta says. "Microsoft is trying to change the nature of the argument. Why compete when you can change the rules?”

Gotta says that thinking will force corporate users to ask questions about how other pieces plug into the architecture, about interoperability around standards and how to deal with federation to the real-time environment of partners.

Potential changes are already evident.

Microsoft showed off the new capabilities of Exchange earlier this month at its annual TechEd conference with demonstrations of unified messaging capabilities including integration of voice with email, calendaring and other Exchange features. Those features also include potential architectural changes within the Exchange infrastructure.

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