Microsoft Ramps Comms Effort With Updates, Hardware Partners

The company says new gear from Siemens, Nortel, Motorola, and HP will support its unified communications effort.

As promised, Microsoft later Monday will roll out its "unified communications" roadmap including the next versions of Live Communications Server and Live Meeting.

The new Communications Server 2007 loses the "Live" moniker which is now relegated to hosted consumer- and small-business oriented services a la Windows Live and Office Live.

The new Communications Server will add Web conferencing to the instant messaging and presence capabilities of the current version, and the subscription-based Live Meeting web conferencing service, will be available in the second calendar quarter of 2007, said Eric Swift, senior director of product management for the company's Unified Communications Group, organized earlier this year.

Microsoft will also offer a commercial version of RingCam, its in-the-round videoconferencing camera. It will be known as Office RoundTable 2007.

Microsoft said Hewlett-Packard will offer systems integration and hardware support for the upcoming portfolio. Motorola will pledge handheld devices and networking gear to support Communicator Mobile, the latest handheld mail client.

A bevy of Microsoft executives from Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, and vice presidents Anoop Gupta and David Thompson will talk up the plan at a San Francisco event later today.

Observers say this is a renewed attempt by Microsoft to wrest mind- and market-share in converged communications from partner (and rival) Cisco Systems.

Cisco fields its own messaging/videoconfenciing solutions for businesses and leads the league in routers and networking hardware to enable such scenarios.

The goal of unified communications is to give users one place to check voice-, e-mail and IM messages. Microsoft wants users to live within their Office applications, which are being presence-and IM enabled. Microsoft's plan is to parlay its Active Directory infrastructure and Office applications towards this end.

IBM offers a similar vision for its Sametime and Domino-focused worlds, but lacks Office's and Outlook's dominance.

Perhaps anticipating this widely anticipated Microsoft news IBM countered by announcing it will integrate its upcoming Sametime 7.5 enterprise instant messaging to Microsoft Outlook clients, as well as Office and SharePoint applications.

Interestingly, IBM has no plan to foster interoperability between Sametime and Microsoft instant messaging, however.

Last January, Microsoft said Sametime 7.5 would connect to popular America Online, Yahoo and Google IM networks. It now must have seemed prudent to add some Microsoft interop to that list. IBM said Sametime 7.5, once promised for this summer, is now due in the third quarter.

A few months ago, a Microsoft executive fended off questions about a growing rivalry with Cisco by saying Microsoft would attack the communications puzzle from the applications layer while Cisco would do the same from the networking layer.

He said customers want the innovation they're used to in PC software to ripple to their phone systems. But naysayers maintain that Microsoft cannot deliver long-promised products and capabilities and that users may not trust their phonesoften their business life linesto a PC software model often afflicted with glitches and reboots.

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