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Microsoft Launches Communications Suite

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At a live event in San Francisco, Microsoft Tuesday announced the launch ofits "Unified Communications" suite of products, which aims to blur thedistinction between electronic and voice communications and provide aseamless experience that relegates traditional telephone use to the darkages.

Underlining the importance of the launch was Microsoft ChairmanBill Gates, who said during the event that "now is the time whencommunications will be revolutionized." The products thatGates said he hopes will lead the revolution include Microsoft Office CommunicationsServer 2007, Microsoft Office Communicator 2007--the client component ofOffice Communications Server 2007--and Microsoft Office Live Meeting, areal-time, online collaboration package.

Microsoft also announced aservice pack release for Exchange Server 2007, which will integrate it morefully with the Unified Communications (UC) products launched.

Theunderlying technology is Voice over IP (VoIP), which moves communicationsfrom the realm of hardware into software. Gates said that the shift to UCwill be "as profound as the shift from typewriters to word processors."

Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007, thesuccessors to Live Communications Server, were released to manufacturingJuly 27. Live Meeting is Microsoft's hosted Web conferencing service. A keypart of that was demonstrated at the presentation, with Roundtable, a $3,000video camera and microphone system that provides a 360-degree view of aroom. Using Office Communicator, end users can see and hear all meetingattendees, whether in the room or offsite.

Technologies likeRoundtable will help businesses be more efficient, according to Jeff Raikes,president of the Microsoft Business Division. He said that according to onestudy, employees spend "37 minutes per week in voice mail jail or playingphone tag. Not just the lost time is important, but what it means in termsof the business," Raikes said. "Using identity and presence at the core,[workers will] miss fewer conversations and calls, get to business fasterand get business done," he added.

Gates detailed hard numbers to backup those assertions. According to a Microsoft-sponsored study by ForresterResearch, companies could see a 500 percent return on investment over threeyears. The figures are so high, Gates said, because much of theinfrastructure, including the network, servers, clients and e-mail, isalready in place in companies.

Microsoft is working hard to create anecosystem around UC. Raikes announced that more than 50 partners areunveiling products and services for the UC family, and said more will becoming. "It's a platform for companies to develop on," he said. In addition,three telephony companies -- Nortel Networks, Ericsson and Mitel NetworksCorp -- are building software apps to run on top of UC and extend theirabilities.

Microsoft did not immediately release give pricinginformation for the products. However, previously it has said the licensingmodel will remain the same as it is for Live Communications server; namely,that both client and server licenses will be needed, and will be availablein both Standard and Enterprise versions.

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About the author: Keith Ward is online news editor for the Redmond Media Group. You can contact him at kward@1105media.com.

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About the Author

Keith Ward is online news editor for the Redmond Media Group. You can contact him at kward@1105media.com.

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