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Microsoft Updates Live Meeting: Web Conferencing Moves Forward

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This week at its annual Tech-Ed conference, Microsoft unveiled its next iteration of Office Live Meeting, Microsoft's web conferencing platform, giving enterprises new options for their web conferencing needs, and continuing to demonstrate Microsoft’s end-to-end vision for communications and collaboration.

With over 79% of enterprises now using web conferencing according to the Nemertes benchmark "Building A Successful Virtual Workplace", and the recent acquisition of WebEx by Cisco, it's no wonder that Microsoft would make a considerable investment in its own web conferencing technology.  This release also demonstrates further execution of Microsoft’s end-to-end strategy for unified communications, providing all elements of an integrated voice, video, messaging, and collaboration system.

Scheduled for fall availability, this new release features an improved user interface, deeper integration with other Microsoft Office products, VOIP, embedded video, and other features designed to improve the ability of virtual workgroups to collaborate. 

With this upgrade, Microsoft more firmly entrenches Live Meeting into its unified communications strategy.  The new release integrates with Microsoft’ RoundTable video conferencing system, and supports VOIP for integrated audio, presumably driven by Microsoft’s own Office Communications Server 2007 or integrated third parties.

Up until now, Microsoft has only offered its web conferencing platform as a hosted service.  With the upcoming release of Office Communications Server 2007 Microsoft will finally deliver an on-premises option for enterprises looking to own their own platforms.  But at this point it isn’t clear if the web conferencing capabilities bundled within OCS will be identical to those available via Live Meeting, or if there will be a gap.  It also isn’t clear what, if any, feature gap there will be between those using Microsoft Live Meeting via Internet Explorer, and those running other browsers (or other operating systems such as Mac & Linux variants).  In the past, and with many competing systems, non-IE users find themselves with limited functionality.

As I’ve noted in the past, unified communications means that enterprises should no longer view communications and collaboration applications as silos, but rather should integrate planning for systems such as VOIP, messaging, and voice/audio/web conferencing.  As applications become further integrated, enterprises that haven’t integrated planning functions will struggle to get the most out of their UC applications.