How we did it

How we tested the various unified messaging platforms.

Each vendor invited to the unified messaging evaluation was asked to bring a complete IP-PBX, Exchange Server 2000 or above, and at least two end points - hard phones or soft phones. We also required them to bring the applications and/or servers to support text-to-speech as well as voice recognition that would be used in our testing.

To evaluate the UM packages' TTS capabilities we created and delivered a battery of test e-mails. These contained varying degrees of misspellings, phonetic spellings and abbreviations, along with messages with text bodies in German, French and Spanish.

We provided a client laptop, for the vendor to use - a 2.4-GHz Compaq Presario 2500 with Microsoft's XP SP2, and Outlook 2000. This laptop was used for the evaluation of the installation and use of the vendor's client software (typically these were Outlook plug-ins). Our test bed provided an analog telephone line, connected to the vendors' IP-PBX, to create the test voice mails used in our evaluations. The client laptop in our test bed was outfitted with external speakers and an external microphone to examine the recording and playback quality.

Forty percent of the evaluation focused on the interfaces offered to users for access to unified messaging. We assessed all supported interfaces, including the classical "e-mail in-box-based" access, Web-based interfaces and the next generation of telephone user interface.

After user interfaces, 30% of the evaluation's weighting went to configuration and architecture. Here we assessed the UM package in terms of: number and mix of servers required to deliver all the key functions; scalability; support for different underlying PBXs; and voice mail encoding settings, in terms of bandwidth and storage.

Then 20% was allotted for "features" - notable special or unique aspects or offerings that distinguish the UM package. Among noteworthy features we observed were: broad support for different languages; fax integration; and the ability to tailor or customize voice and audio interfaces.

Finally, a small amount of the evaluation, 10%, was allotted for installation and integration. We focused mainly on the client environment, installing the plug-ins into Outlook and working in the Microsoft desktop environment. We also tested top-level interfaces for administering the various components of the UM package.

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