Microsoft's week included strong early Kinect sales, the launch of its Lync 2010 unified communications platform and Office Apps with the revamped Facebook Messages.
Last week's Windows Phone 7 launch drew attention to Microsoft's consumer
side. But a company of Microsoft's size necessarily has other areas of focus;
and this week, it was the business-product end of Redmond's
operations that seemed to attract news attention.
Microsoft formally launched Lync 2010, the rebranding of its Office
Communications software suite, with a New York City
event Nov. 17. Lync provides business users with a unified software platform
for enterprise telephony, instant messaging, and video and audio conferencing;
in addition, it integrates tightly with software platforms such as Microsoft
Office, SharePoint and Exchange.
Lync displays a good deal of flexibility for the office environment,
allowing users to select multiple people from a contact list to make a group
call, and then allowing groups to collaborate on the same commonly shared
document. Integration with services such as Exchange means that Lync will, for
instance, auto-update its users' statuses if they're in a meeting or otherwise
"Lync is the linchpin to our communications
strategy," Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft's
Information Worker Product Management group, said during his keynote at the
Research firm Forrester estimates that the
overall unified communications market will be worth $14.5 billion by 2015, making
that strategy a potentially vital part of Microsoft's bottom line. So vital, in
fact, that former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates
himself made an appearance at the Lync launch event-appropriately enough,
onscreen via the software's video-conferencing capability.
"When you looked at PBX, it sort of just sat there by itself,"
Gates told the audience, referring to the traditional telephone exchanges
servicing an office or business. "That isolation meant it wasn't an
available platform" for software development.
He also termed the software-driven, unified communications platform as "probably
the most important thing to happen for the office worker since the PC came
Lync also interfaces with Windows Live Messenger and the Kinect hands-free
gaming controller, in the latter case allowing users to activate video
conferencing through gesture. "The way people work has really dramatically
shifted, and the blending of home life and work life has been really quite
extreme," Capossela said in a Nov. 17 conversation with eWEEK. "We
felt we wanted [Lync] to scale all the way down, so people could use that one
system to connect with their friends and family who aren't connected with that
Speaking of that blurring between consumer and business realms, Facebook's
revamped messaging platform now boasts tighter integration with Microsoft
Office, offering Microsoft a new way to challenge cloud-based productivity
software such as Google Docs.
"Facebook's new messaging platform integrates the Office Web Apps to
enable Facebook users to view Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents
with just one click," Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice president for
Microsoft Office, wrote
in a Nov. 15 posting on The Microsoft Office Blog. "Now you can easily
share those ideas with your friends and family on Facebook."
messages now include the tab "View on Office.com," which will
open a stripped-down version of the Word, Excel or PowerPoint document in a new
browser window. Users can also download the attachment to their hard drive,
where it can be opened using Office.
Facebook and Microsoft have previously collaborated on similar productivity
initiatives, including Docs for Facebook, an online applications platform that
also lets Facebook users create and share Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.
Under the guidance of departing Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, Microsoft
has angled increasingly towards social-networking applications and integration;
in October 2009 he launched Microsoft incubator FUSE (Future Social
Experiences) Labs in order to capitalize on social-networking opportunities
developed by Microsoft Research and any associated entities.
Despite Microsoft's aggression with regard to the cloud and social
networking, the company still draws the bulk of its revenues from traditional
lines of business such as Windows and Office. Microsoft's stock has remained
largely stagnant for a decade, leading to investor complaints during the
company's annual shareholder meeting.
During a question-and-answer session at that meeting, Ballmer
suggested that breaking up the company-something suggested by one
self-described "frustrated" stockholder-would create "economic
dis-synergies" and "a harder time competing for all relevant parties."
Ballmer also defended his plans to sell 75 million shares of Microsoft by
the end of 2010. He holds 4 percent of the company's stock, second only to
Gates with just over 7 percent.
Nonetheless, that sale comes at an auspicious time, as the company and its
investors look for signs that some of its more expensive projects are
succeeding in the marketplace. Microsoft announced this week that
Kinect had sold more than 1 million units in its first 10 days of release,
making it a short-term hit. However, it has yet to announce any official sales
numbers for Windows Phone 7, its heavily publicized smartphone platform.
And anyone who felt they missed out on Microsoft's Kin One and Kin Two
social-networking phones-which died an ignoble death after several weeks' worth
of poor sales earlier in 2010-your proverbial ship has arrived: Verizon is now
offering both devices, as feature phones, through its Website. Microsoft hopes
that Windows Phone 7 will perform just a little bit better.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.