Microsoft last week made a serious move to boost its development of a real-time communications platform and lead a major shake-up of the conferencing market.Microsoft\u00a0last week made a serious move to boost its development of a real-time communications platform and lead a major shake-up of the conferencing market.When the software giant agreed last week to acquire\u00a0PlaceWare, an online Web conferencing service, it plugged some gaps in its conferencing technology and increased its access to service providers, customers, APIs, developers and patented security protocols.PlaceWare's technology will become a component of Microsoft's real-time platform code-named Greenwich, which is expected to ship later this year as a module that plugs into the Windows Server 2003 operating system, slated to ship April 24. Microsoft says it hopes to cement Greenwich in corporate and service provider networks as a platform on which to build real-time-enabled applications.The acquisition also serves as a major shake-up in the conferencing market, as vendors now must figure out if they will compete with Microsoft, build applications on top of Microsoft's platform or offer complementary services such as gateways that enhance the platform."Conferencing vendors that stand still will be flattened," says Christine Perey, president of Perey Research and Consulting Services.Greenwich offers real-time services to applications that can incorporate features such as instant messaging\/presence, and data, voice and videoconferencing. The platform would be used not only for applications for communicating between people, but also between devices and people. A monitoring application could use the real-time platform to locate a user on a network, send an instant message to the user's device, and establish a real-time conferencing session between that user and someone else.Greenwich supports standards such as\u00a0Session Initiation Protocol\u00a0and\u00a0SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions\u00a0to foster integration.Integration of that type is known as contextual collaboration, which means that the real-time features are a built-in component of an application and that users don't have to leave that application and open another for things such as data conferencing.Microsoft rival IBM\/Lotus is building a similar platform using its WebSphere, Domino, Sametime and QuickPlace technologies.But PlaceWare's traditional rivals,\u00a0WebEx\u00a0and\u00a0Raindance, which have built conferencing networks and services, say conferencing is a defined product category instead of a component of a collaboration suite."Part of their effort now is to defend that turf," says Andy Nilssen, an analyst with Wainhouse Research."The question is, will the market buy conferencing as a service or as a feature of an entire IT platform?" he adds.Microsoft is using PlaceWare to strengthen its conferencing position, according to Perey.She says PlaceWare has built strong integration with Microsoft products, including a rapid meeting plug-in developed last year for Outlook.