Nortel Monday announced general availability of a Nortel IP voice switch integrated with Microsoft Office Live Communication Server.Called the Nortel Converged Office, the combination of hardware and software builds on a Microsoft-Nortel relationship announced Aug. 30.Converged Office integrates Microsoft Office Communicator as a voice endpoint with Live Communications Server and Nortel's Communication Server 1000, an IP-based voice switch.The convergence combines popular Microsoft applications such as Outlook, Word and PowerPoint with IP telephony to simplify communications and improve productivity for workers, Nortel and Microsoft officials said in a statement.Nortel named two beta customers using the Nortel Converged Office. One is Baker Communications in Des Moines.Since September, Baker has been successfully using the beta version for about 50 office workers in four buildings, said Jeff Drummond, vice president of communications at the systems integrator. Baker will continue to use the product and will sell it as a Nortel integrator -- though it will also sell competing IP voice switches from Cisco and other vendors, Drummond said.Baker employees are able to take advantage of desktop features -- including click to call, instant messaging and telephony presence -- that are integrated into Microsoft applications, Drummond said.With telephony presence, Drummond said he can tell where every employee in the company is and whether they are on the phone. The convergence of Nortel and Microsoft makes it possible to use telephony presence across multiple platforms and multiple databases and buildings, he said.An advantage of having Microsoft applications in the system is that so many customers already use Microsoft, he said. For Baker's largest customers, the system will help tie together Outlook with a phone system, he said.Another benefit is that while the Nortel switch is IP-based, the convergence will work with traditional analog and digital phones that are not IP-based, he said.On a personal level, Drummond said he can take advantage of Converged Office while on the road to forward a call from a customer to his office in Des Moines to his cell phone with a simple mouse click on an icon on a laptop.Given the advantages of working with Microsoft, Drummond said the Converged Office with the CS 1000 "is actually a better product" than Nortel's Multimedia Communications Server product.Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research, said he wasn't surprised that customers might find Converged Office better than the Nortel MCS. Working with Microsoft is also a wise move for Nortel as it emerges from years of financial problems, he added."For Nortel to rebound, partners like Microsoft are going to have to play a key role," Kerravala said. Without partners, Nortel cannot create a large enough presence to take on market leaders like Cisco, he added.