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12/14/2005
03:30 PM
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Communicator Web Access Helps Microsoft Unify Its Real-Time Collaboration Story

First, I wanted to mention how delighted I am to be a new member of the Collaboration Loop blogging community, joining many other respected industry experts as well as my Burton Group co-worker, Peter O’Kelly. My focus for many years has been in the areas of collaboration, knowledge management, learning and social computing.

I am at the Interop event this week and sat in on the keynote address by Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice-president in the Real-Time Collaboration group at Microsoft. One of the key points made by Gurdeep in his presentation is that the vision for unified communications needs to expand beyond simply voice + data. We need to consider people, roles, relationships and the need for strong identity. I have to agree. Today, our communication and collaboration world is very fragmented. We are faced with constant disjoints as we move across devices and across work and life boundaries. Tools we use today simply do not handle the transitions and transformations between communication and collaboration modalities very well. It ends up being a frustrating experience for users as they manually triage a very fragmented environment. Meta data becomes strikingly important as users (and developers building communication-enabled applications) struggle to preserve context as people collaborate back-and-forth in real-time and asynchronously (perhaps using a virtual workspace technology). To make matters more challenging, these interactions increasingly span devices (mobile phones, PDAs, business laptops and home computers) as well as opportunistic connection points (e.g., P2P, public Wi-Fi spots) making identity and security of critical importance.

As part of Gurdeep’s keynote presentation, he announced that Office Communicator Web Access is now available. That’s good news for users and IT groups deploying Microsoft’s Live Communicator Server. Communicator Web Access (CWA) is an Ajax-based technology enabling the UI to mimic what users experience in its desktop counterpart, Office Communicator 2005. Users simply point their browser to the correct URL and sign-in. This opens the door to more rapid and broader deployment of an LCS solution by IT groups. CWA also extends Microsoft’s real-time collaboration client footprint to support non-Microsoft browsers and non-Windows platforms. I met with Gurdeep afterwards and followed up with several questions. My paraphrased notes are below:

Q: How similar are the capabilities of Office Communicator and CWA?
A: Except for audio and video, the features and functions between the two products are virtually the same. Users will notice few differences.

Q: What does the Ajax programming mode for CWA allow you to do?
A: If you have a portal or other type of application, you can start embedding Communicator Web Access within the application itself. You can imagine small Ajax fragments that fit within the application context rather than just Communicator Web Access filling up an entire browser window. For instance, you should be able to create a Web Part container for Communicator Web Access.

Q: Will Microsoft deliver dedicated client versions of Office Communicator for other platforms or does CWA fulfill that need?
A: Righ now, Communicator Web Access will be the solution for non-Microsoft browsers and non-Windows platforms but we remain open-minded to supporting other scenarios in the future.

Q: Does CWA support policy management?
A: Communicator Web Access honors all LCS server policies.

Q: What about support for Communicator Presence Controls?
A: There is no bridge right now. CWA will not work out-of-the-box with Communicator Presence Controls but developers can take advantage of the Ajax programming model.
 
Q: What about support for Role Agent and other LCS SDK/APIs?
A: Communicator Web Access supports all the back-end functions of LCS.

With that, I thanked Gurdeep for his time and went back to the show.

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