Microsoft just unveiled its latest strategy for unified messaging (this used to be called convergence, along with a host of other things) on the desktop. Building on announcements over the past year that it was working with traditional telecoms suppliers including Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Nortel, and Siemens (which is one of their longest standing partners in this area), this week's announcement continues along the path leading to the release of the 2007 Microsoft Office system.
If this announcement sounds familiar, it should. Microsoft has had a fairly robust unified messaging strategy in Exchange Server although a lot of the functionality started appearing in other products. This, the company's latest messaging strategy, reunites many of these tools and builds on them. A few years later, Microsoft needs to look at more than e-mail, fax, and instant messaging - today there's Voice-over-IP telephony, mobile communications, audio, video, and Web conferencing, and more sophisticated presence awareness. It may be hard to imagine, that just a few years ago, all of us weren't connected 24x7 to everything.
So how exactly is this new direction different? For one thing, it's intelligent unification. The network "knows" when you are on the phone and changes your presence awareness state; it also knows your availability to receive messages and will direct communications appropriately. To this end, Siemens is integrating its HiPath 8000 switch with Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft Office Live Communications Server; other telecoms companies are following suit.
Microsoft has also designed these tools to comply with Embedded Community, which refers to contextually embedding community and collaboration tools deep into the work environment so that there is a clear and direct relationship with the work at hand and the tools available in an organization's Collaborative Business Environment.A brief look at the products Microsoft is releasing shows that the future does hold great promise - now it's up to Microsoft to make sure all the pieces work together and, more importantly, help ensure that their customers are ready to embrace the knowledge economy
- Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 is a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) based real-time communications platform that supports presence-based Voice-over-IP call management, audio/video/Web conferencing, and IM.
- Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 provides a unified inbox that adds speech-based automated attendant that allows users to access their communications/messages from any phone in addition to supporting e-mail, fax messaging, and voicemail.
- Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 is the unified communications client that delivers a presence-based, enterprise-class Voice-over-IP softphone, secure instant messaging, intercompany federation for IM, and connectivity to public IM networks such as MSN, AOL, and Yahoo. It also supports one-to-one and multi-party audio/video/Web conferencing.
- Microsoft Office Live Meeting is the company's conferencing service that now adds support for e-learning, enhanced audio and video including Voice-over-IP, integration with the Microsoft Office system, and a new user interface.
- Microsoft Office RoundTable is one of my favorite new applications (it came out of Microsoft's Information Worker research and my colleague Jonathan Spira had the opportunity to study this in its earliest developmental phases at the Center for Information Work). RoundTable (in conjunction with Office Communications Server 2007) is an audio-video conferencing device with a 360° camera. Meeting participants both in the meeting remote and in remote locations have a true panoramic view of everyone in the conference room as well as close-up views of individual knowledge workers as they take the floor.