March 6, 2007 9:00 PM PST

Microsoft Office finds its voice

After months of anticipation, corporate customers will soon get their hands on a beta version of Microsoft's voice over IP software, an event that marks an important step in the evolution of corporate communications.

Microsoft is staging the long-awaited coming-out party for its IP telephony software with an announcement that the public beta release of Office Communications Server 2007, Microsoft's voice over IP and unified communications server, and Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft's unified communications client, will be available to testers later this month.

The announcement will be made by Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Business Division, during a keynote address Wednesday morning at the VoiceCon trade show in Orlando, Fla.

The launch of the new software puts Microsoft head to head with other companies selling IP telephony and unified communications software to large companies. As the No. 1 supplier of desktop software to most businesses around the world, Microsoft will likely be a formidable competitor not only to the traditional telephony players, such as Avaya, but also to its longtime partner and more recent rival Cisco Systems.

"Microsoft, because it is Microsoft, will have a big impact on the market," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with the Yankee Group. "They will be able to use their influence with customers on the applications and desktop front as another way into the customer account."

But more than adding a new competitor to the mix, Microsoft's entry into the corporate telephony market also marks the next evolution in communications. Tying voice services into Microsoft Office applications turns telephony into another software feature rather than making it a separate and standalone product that requires its own hardware and team of technicians to purchase, install and manage it.

Kerravala said he sees communications being embedded in a slew of other applications from wikis to blogs to podcasts, not to mention the vast array of business applications.

Newsmaker
Turning to telephony
The president of Microsoft's Business Division, Jeff Raikes, talks about the company's strategy for delivering its new communications system to businesses.

"Once telephony stops being a separate product, there is a lot of room to integrate it with some Web 2.0 technologies," he said. "Microsoft hasn't addressed this just yet, but they seem to be headed there. You shouldn't have to switch applications to make a phone call or send a message."

Raikes said during a recent interview that he believes a software-based approach to IP telephony could revolutionize corporate communications by reducing costs and improving the efficiency of interactions.

"When you get voice and unified communications integrated into the productivity and line of business application infrastructure," he said, "you suddenly open up all kinds of great new value that users really haven't been able to take advantage of."

Microsoft first announced that it was integrating telephony with its Live Communications Server last summer. Soon after that, it announced that it was working with veteran telecommunications equipment maker Nortel Networks to help provide corporate customers with a complete solution that included infrastructure equipment and call-signaling software, as well as desktop software to integrate communications into business applications used on a daily basis.

Click on a name, make a call
Until now, Live Communications Server has been more about corporate messaging and presence than about voice services. Now, with the release of Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft offers support for voice in just about every Microsoft application. This means that users working in an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document can click on a name and instantly make a voice call. Calls can be launched from Outlook and Sharepoint, as well as from Microsoft's instant-messaging client.

Microsoft's Raikes described Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 as the most important new communications technology since Microsoft Outlook 1997, the e-mail and personal information manager that debuted in 1996. He predicted that the new products would change the way people contact each other by providing more efficient and effective communications.

"This software release is a major step in terms of voice and call management," he said. "And within three years, there will be a hundred million or more people able to make phone calls from Outlook, SharePoint and other Microsoft Office System applications."

See more CNET content tagged:
communications server, telephony, Jeff Raikes, IP telephony, Microsoft Office Live Communications Server

13 comments

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"Click on a name, make a call"!
So, just what is new about this particular strategy by Microsoft and this article which went on to further state that "Microsoft will likely be a formidable competitor not only to the traditional telephony players, such as Avaya, but also to its longtime partner and more recent rival Cisco Systems". If there is anything the feeling is that it is Microsoft which should be minding its "sails" from the sea change that will be coming with the launch of IBM's Lotus Notes towards mid-year which also integrates VOIP Technologies from both Avaya and Cisco Systems.
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
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Lol my Vulcan brother!!
You are just nuts with your posts! Like one of those crazy homeless people on the street talking about the end times.

I am consultant specializing in MS products mostly AD and Exchange implmentations along with Sharepoint and Live communications server.

Of all the corporations I have worked at consulting medium to large companies the trend is the same. MS backoffice products have completely replaced or mostly replaced Novell Netware and Lotus Notes products and if they have any Mac's the represent less than 1% of the computers at any particular corporation.

In a few places a Notes app or two used by a dozen or less users still exsist and only becaues the particular companies development teams have not gotten the time yet to convert that app over to something else.

I recently took an old compaq server running NT 4.0 and Lotus Notes 5?...and moved the whole server onto a VMWARE slice because the development team could not get to replacing the functionality of that app into a Java based platform for another year. There were 3 users of the Notes app....using a whole server. No one wanted to touch it, because no one at that company new Notes anymore. Now if there is a problem they just restore the virtual HD to when I migrated it.
Posted by Lindy01 (443 comments )
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What it means.
You click a name:
From your IM, from your mobile device, from your laptop in an airport, from the to: or from: line in an email you've seen, from a field in your corportations customer built app, from the list of names on your phone's screen.

You make a call:
Your desk phone rings, or your mobile phone, or your pc, or that other PC you're on elsewhere. The call becomes video, voice, or IM depending on the capabilities. You whiteboard, share apps, do panoramic video in a conference room, have your email read to you. The communication reaches you when, where, and how you want it. Join a concall where some participants are using video, some are walking around on a cellphone. No limits. Do it all with secured industry standard protocols.

Cisco is still drooling over remote call control, Avaya is still all excited about voicemail arriving in your email. That "new" stuff is so old it's dusty.
Posted by smilin:) (889 comments )
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thanks to cnet for every thing
Posted by mazinhasan (1 comment )
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