Microsoft GM Scopes Out New Tools For Unified Communications Push - InformationWeek

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Microsoft GM Scopes Out New Tools For Unified Communications Push

Microsoft is pitching its UC gear -- currently Live Communications Server and its soon-to-come successor, Office Communications Server 2007 -- as a platform.

The brave new world of unified communications will spur demand for new tools. And programming a system that combines PBX functionality, voice and data communication -- in real time and asynchronous -- is no small feat.

At Microsoft, Kirt Debique is the guy in charge of all that.

Debique has been general manager of Microsoft's Unified Communications Applications Server (or UCAS) team since November and has been with the company nearly 15 years. For those who need pedigrees, he's one of the Vista WAVE (Windows Audio Visual Excellence) guys. He has worked a lot in replication and distributed file systems and on the APIs in the 32-bit operating system kernel. (For more on Debique and WAVE, see this Channel 9 video.)

At this point, Debique isn't talking in too much detail about planned UC tools or how they will be delivered -- that must wait for Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in October, he said. Still, he understands the budding curiosity among third-party developers and systems integrators who want to build atop the UC infrastructure and tie other products to it.

Microsoft is pitching its UC gear -- currently Live Communications Server and its soon-to-come successor, Office Communications Server 2007 -- as a platform, and Debique said Microsoft must provide a "great platform experience."

"When people think of platform, they focus on the APIs. While that's the center of gravity, thinking broadly, there must be a focus on things like tools, manageability and deployability, [which is] especially important in this space to all personas: the developer, the IT pro and the end customer," Debique told CRN. "This is a space where it's really important to make sure the connection between the application, the administration and the deployment of the application is very strong."

It's also important to think about how a developer debugs the work and what all of that means for packaging, Debique added.

One longtime integrator couldn't agree more. Microsoft needs a series of Visual Studio plug-ins to help developers incorporate UC features into their applications, said the integrator, who requested anonymity. These plug-ins would accommodate next-generation TAPI and MAPI telephony and messaging APIs, he said.

"Programming both PBX functionality and rich codecs is complex, and getting good performance is nontrivial," the integrator said. "Microsoft has to make these tasks easy for developers."

That message rings especially true considering the nature of UC, which converges the traditional functions of phones into a PC-centric model. Say what you will about old time phones, but their uptime is virtually 100 percent. Business professionals will have zero patience for a VoIP-based phone system that doesn't yield a dial tone, regardless of how many other instant messaging, Web conferencing and whiteboarding bells and whistles come with it. People need their phone to work -- without rebooting.

The integrator, who's close to Microsoft, said there was internal debate at the company about whether relevant tool deliverables would come from the Visual Studio group or the Unified Communications Group (UCG). Most likely they will derive from both, since the Visual Studio.Net framework allows plug-ins, he said. His take is that the UCG group will work on the tools but end up delivering them via the Visual Studio framework.

NEXT: Where's the third-party opportunity?

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