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Microsoft dives into voice communications

Features better integrated with business apps

After years of dipping its toe in the waters of unified voice and data communications, Microsoft is ready to dive in head first. It will unveil its Unified Communication Product Roadmap and Partner Ecosystem today.

The product roadmap calls for changes to product lines to better integrate voice features with Microsoft's business software. It includes several new capabilities and name changes. Office Communications Server 2007 replaces Live Communications Server and adds presence-based VoIP (voice over IP) call management, web, audio and videoconferencing to IM features.

Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, a unified communications client for that server, will have a VoIP softphone and web, audio, and video conferencing. A product called Exchange 2007 Unified Messaging will offer a unified email and voicemail inbox, and speech-based access. Microsoft will update Live Meeting, adding VoIP, video and e-learning support.

One example of the potential for the integrated products is Microsoft Office RoundTable, a reference design for an audio/video conference-room device with a 360-degree camera with video switching and beaming technology that can focus on active speakers.

Rather than replacing the corporate phone system or IP PBX, Microsoft is floating a unified communications architecture built on Active Directory and SIP. The company is moving ahead with efforts to build voice and other communications directly into mainstream applications such as Office, CRM and supply chain, according to Gartner analyst Bern Elliot.

"Microsoft has some failures behind it and recognises that unified communications is a difficult area," Elliot said. "For now, they're not as much interested in replacing the IP PBX as they are in developing a new way to communicate."

Exchange server will ship in late 2006 or early in 2007, according to Microsoft. The other pieces will be available in the second quarter of 2007.

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