June 25, 2006 8:20 PM PDT

Redmond wants you to get the message

For Microsoft right now, the business of workplace communications looks a lot like the server business of the early 1990s.

Like then, there are a number of companies all trying to provide the same thing--this time, a way to bring together voice mail, e-mail and other digital communication in the corporation. But, also like then, many of their products are one-off approaches that don't work well with others.

So to make its mark in this market, Microsoft is hoping that it can do what it has done in the past--create key underlying software, and then convince the rest of the industry to build on top of its architecture.

"This is an area that is ripe for that," Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, said in an interview.

On Monday, the software maker will outline its vision for unified communications at a San Francisco event and give specific details of several products coming over the next year. "We see software as being at the center of addressing these sets of issues and putting people in control of their communications," Raikes said.

The move is key to Microsoft's bottom line.

About five years ago, Raikes talked about aiming to double Microsoft's nearly $10 billion Information Worker business unit over the coming decade. But the unit has largely seen single-digit growth, despite Microsoft's expansion of its Office business with things like Live Meeting and the collaboration program Groove.

Unified communications software is an important part of Raikes' effort to get back to double-digit growth and to reach his lofty goal of increasing the unit's business twofold.

"It will certainly be a multibillion-dollar business for us in just a few years," Raikes said. "We are going to see a lot of growth."

Raikes said he will go into more detail on his plans at a meeting at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters next month for financial analysts.

New names, features
On the product side of its new push, Microsoft is largely expanding several existing communications titles into new areas. Live Communications Server, which provides business instant messaging and a way to see which employees are online, is being renamed Office Communications Server, for example. The next version is expected to build in Internet telephony, and voice and video conferencing. It will also have Web conferencing abilities via Microsoft's Live Meeting technology.

Microsoft Office Roundtable

The company also plans to add telephony features to Office Communicator, an employee desktop product that has largely been used as an instant-messaging client. And with Exchange 2007, the next update to the e-mail server software, workers will be able to access voice mail and faxes from their PC, Microsoft said. It will also let them dial in to a telephone to get voice access to their e-mail, calendar and other information.

The new Exchange is due late this year or early next year, while the new versions of Office Communicator and Office Communications Server are due out in the second quarter of next year.

Microsoft is not alone in eyeing this market. There are the many niche providers that already offer similar technology to the products the software maker is releasing. Beyond that are the big players, including Cisco, that are going after unified messaging customers.

The foundation for Microsoft's push into unified communications was laid earlier this year, when it merged its Real-Time Communications unit with its Exchange e-mail server software group into a single Unified Communications unit.

Beyond its own efforts, Microsoft is hoping to convince others, both hardware and software makers, to opt to build communications products on top of its platform. On Monday, it will announce a pact with Motorola, which will build phones that use Microsoft's software. It will also outline a deal for Hewlett-Packard to expand its Exchange consulting into a more detailed service that helps businesses unify all of their communications technology using Microsoft products.

A number of business telephone makers, including Polycom, LG-Nortel and Thomson Telecom, plan to produce phones and video devices that have Microsoft's Office Communicator for devices software built-in. Plenty of other hardware companies are also expected to offer wired and wireless USB phones, and other devices, that tap into Microsoft's technology.

"We'll have hundreds of companies doing various products," Raikes said.

The software maker is also commercializing a product from its research unit. Next year, it plans to sell a 360-degree Web camera under the name "Microsoft Office RoundTable." The product, previously known as "RingCam," has been touted frequently in demonstrations by Microsoft Research.

The RoundTable camera and new phones built using Microsoft's technology are also slated for the second quarter of 2007.

On the software side, Microsoft is trying to get enterprise software makers to embed its presence technology in their products. For example, customer-relationship management products can be built to pop up a customer's records whenever they are calling on the phone.

"It's an obvious thing to do," Raikes said.

See more CNET content tagged:
Jeff Raikes, unified messaging, communications server, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, voicemail

18 comments

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I'll be buying that as soon as...
...they release the docs on the protocols of said systems. Otherwise they're smoking crack.
Posted by piperdown (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I have to admit
I thought the 'HIGH IMPACT' and 'Microsoft is about to outline ' to be idiotic.
When they actually outline, or better yet release software that does what they outlined, let me know.

One can't code to hype alone...
Posted by catch23 (436 comments )
Link Flag
Hack
Someone will hack it 5 days later.
Posted by paulsecic (298 comments )
Link Flag
Another Microsoft FIRST!
..if only Yahoo didn't do it years ago with a Yahoo ID.

myyahooid@yahoo.com
myyahooid for Yahoo Messenger
myyahooid for Yahoo Voice
and the hundred other Yahoo services.

I can't believe CNET didn't bother to do some research before publishing an inaccurate press release.

So what exactly is new?
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A matter of trust...
No one trusts Microsoft anymore. And with good reason. This latest
"innovation" will be yet another proprietary technology that will
only work with Windows, excluding every other operating system or
platform.
Posted by lkrupp (1608 comments )
Reply Link Flag
From a security standpoint -
If email or IM goes down or is compromised (read: a new vulnerability is discovered in either major client), you still have voice mail to fall back on. If voice mail hoses up (not very often), you still have email and IM as a ready backup.

Given Microsoft's (seriously) questionable level of security and interoperability w/ client apps that are not theirs, the last thing I'd ever want is to try to explain to the bosses why their email, IM's AND voice mail is all horked up. I also suspect that there will be only one type of email client that will actually work with this scheme (Outlook), one type of IM client (MSN Messenger), and prolly one type of voice mail (guess who is busily building that right now?)... not good at all from a security standpoint, let alone the fact that the users under my care often use Thunderbird for email, a wide range of solutions for IM, and older but solid gear for voicemail. Many don't use Windows at all.

Homogenization, esp. w/ those clients, is just begging for compromise.

I'll stick with using skill and scripting to make the three work together while retaining their separate domains, thanks much.
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
stick with using skill
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/mazda_truck_b_series_owners_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/mazda_truck_b_series_owners_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ipod Apple (152 comments )
Link Flag
Building off Microsoft Architecture
Would anyone trust Microsoft a second time? As a person with a PC I went from the original WIN 95, through those time consuming tweaks to make software compatible with the OS, only to find a new and "improved" version of windows come out ever 18 months or so that was worse than the finally working well version after all was said and done.
Truthfully, I am tired of all the changes that require a business to update every 5 years if they can stretch it out that long.
All I want is a system that will function for me well with graphics (no conflicts) and is easy to understand. Perhaps some intelligent person can
do a little computer genetics and come up with a McPC that has the insides of a Mac but calls their programs something similar to what a PC does so the transition is not as confusing? Or just simply have an explanation saying (Mac Command) is the same as the PC's (Pc Command) for those of us who are not prone bilingual communication when under time constraints to get 'er done.
Any entrepeneurs out there to develope a McPC?
Posted by pjdw (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sorry, MS.....
... This is one more of your 'earthshaking' products that gets
dumped before it gets started. When you can't make a decent OS,
everything else is garbage too.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Making an OS
Well they have made a decent OS. I am using it right now. What is wrong with it? I regually have it running for 30+ days with no problems. It is Apple who can only package an OS, just like all of their products. Apple is no more than a label on cheap sweat-shop Chinese products. Their OS doesn't even support hibernation (or "Safe-Sleep") without the latest OS and a few hacks.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Link Flag
Too difficult, MS
Architecture, Software etc don't sound like comfortable terms to the users. Google and Yahoo never use those techy-only words. Please think about the average end users who are not Ivyleague.
Posted by ysrang (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes and no...
Windows is a useable basic OS - if you never go online with it, never use critical programs on it, never store critical data on it, and never really work the machine.

OTOH, for those of us who practically live online (but don't want to expose ourselves to a whole raft of viruses just by browsing the web), use programs that push the limits of computation (3D apps come to mind in my case), or store things in there that we'd rather not lose or be forced to restore from backup every six months to a year (usually due to a Registry gone corrupt beyond belief)... well, we'd prefer something else until/unless windows can step to the plate and actually perform as advertised.

There's also the little matter of not wanting a megacorp to snoop in on my computer's contents at whim, but that's another matter entirely.

Until Windows can meet or exceed those needs? OSX, Linux, and FreeBSD will suit my purposes just fine.
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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