Microsoft plans to release several voice, video and data applications for enterprise unified communications on October 16, the company announced yesterday at the VoiceCon conference in San Francisco. And it seems voice, data and instant messaging software-as-services are also in Microsoft’s pipeline.
The announced products are: Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, which provides a management platform for VoIP, IM, email and video conferencing; Office Communicator 2007, the desktop client version of OCS; and Microsoft Live Meeting, a software version of Microsoft’s web conferencing platform that is currently available as a hosted service via Exchange 2007.
The applications are designed to help companies add IP-based video, voice and instant messaging without having to overhaul existing communications networks. It means companies with traditional PBX networks and phone equipment can transition to VoIP, digital video and other IP-based communications.
Office Communications Server 2007 was released in beta last December. In May, the company said it would be interoperable with equipment from Nortel Networks and some PBX vendors.
Microsoft is also building a hosted services version of these capabilities, Microsoft program manager Warren Barkley said during a panel discussion at yesterday’s event.
No specifics of the services project were given, but Barkley talked about small businesses not necessarily having the same IT resources as large enterprises to run advanced communications systems.
When questioned about Barkley’s comment, Microsoft marketing manager Jevon Fark reiterated Microsoft’s focus on software plus services, which he said would extend into Office Communications Server over time.
The new unified comms products the company officially announced yesterday will be launched via webcast in mid-October by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. They will become part of the company’s unified communications portfolio, which so far includes Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.
Having Gates unveil the new unified comms products underscores how important this market is to Microsoft.
Microsoft obviously is taking a software-centric approach to IP-based unified communications while Cisco Systems’ has a networking focus. The bosses of both companies earlier this week said they would work to ensure compatibility of their products, but it will be interesting to see the shifting of the competitive landscape as more enterprises adopt IP-based communications during the next few years.
If and when Microsoft does launch a unified communications as a network-based service, it will face more competition from Cisco. The latter, of course, owns WebEx, which already sells various communications applications as a service, called WebOffice.