Microsoft announced on Wednesday that it will publicly release its beta Office Communications Server 2007 this month and is inviting the public to participate.
Microsoft Business Division President Jeff Raikes made the announcement at the VoiceCon trade show in Orlando, signaling what could mark the beginning of a surge in VoIP and unified communications. Millions of users are expected to test the Office Communications Server 2007 system, which is expected to work with several voice over IP devices, phones, applications, services, and management tools.
"We're embarking on a software transformation similar to what we saw from the mainframe to the PC," Raikes said. "With a shift of this magnitude, there will be tremendous opportunities for our industry partners worldwide."
Microsoft's Office Communications Server uses open, published interfaces and standards as a way to cut costs and interact with other voice over IP products on the market. Microsoft said it promises the 2007 version of its unified communications software will allow users to make an easy transition from PBX systems, networks, and desk phones to add VoIP and unified communications without ripping and replacing existing infrastructure.
"Office Communications Server 2007 represents a compelling glimpse into the future of collaboration and information worker environments," said Robert Sincavage, section manager of Web and Collaborative Systems for BMW Group. "This product sets the stage for a back-end infrastructure, where archaic hardware PBXs will be replaced by software and industry-standard servers, potentially resulting in dramatic economic benefits."
Raikes said that Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 are the most important new communications technologies since Microsoft Outlook 1997.
Show attendees were buzzing about the amount of technology that could be rendered obsolete by click-to-call features that would allow people to call each other by clicking on names within other Microsoft Office applications, like Outlook and Office SharePoint Server. Office Communications Server also includes presence technology, which determines colleagues' availability and the best way to reach them at work or while they're on the road. The technology allows voice, audio, and video conferencing, as well as Web-based document sharing.
Raikes said that in three years, the cost of VoIP will be half what it is today, as systems move from hardware to software. By then, 100 million people, or twice the number of current business VoIP users, will be able to make phone calls using Microsoft Office applications, he said.
"Software is set to transform business phone systems as profoundly as it has transformed virtually every other form of workplace communication," he said. "Over time, the software-based VoIP technology built into Microsoft Office Communications Server and Microsoft Office Communicator will offer so much value and cost savings that it will make the standard telephone look like that old typewriter that's gathering dust in the stockroom."