Microsofts introduction Nov. 30 of its new United Communications Developer Portal is the next step in fulfilling Chairman Bill Gates promise in October that the software giant was readying a major push into the unified communications space.
At the Oct. 15 event, Microsoft launched unified communications and VOIP (voice over IP) software, including Microsoft OCS (Office Communications Server) 2007, which delivers VOIP, video, instant messaging, conferencing and presence within applications such as Microsoft Office system applications and upcoming versions of Microsoft Dynamics ERP (enterprise resource planning) products; Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, which is client software for phone, instant messaging and video communications; and Microsoft Office Live Meeting, the next version of Microsofts advanced conferencing service.
On Nov. 30, the company took aim at the developer community. The Microsoft Unified Communications Developer Portal features several resources, including new SDKs (software developer kits) and APIs (application programming interfaces) to help developers build applications on Microsofts unified communications platform.
In an interview on the Microsoft PressPass Web site, Kirt Debique, general manager for Microsofts Office Communications Platform and Solutions Group, said Exchange Server 2007 is a foundational component in Microsofts unified communications solution, "and the Exchange Server Developer Center has proven to us how important it is to have one place to go to for developers to create a vibrant community. … We strongly believe that it will be developers that will ignite the next generation of innovation for our customers."
Read more here about Bill Gates trumpeting the future of unified communications.
Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said developers could help the company by bringing Microsoft unified communications products to such applications as those used by support call centers.
"Developers could be the secret ingredient in Microsofts unified communications strategy," Helm said. "Microsoft is taking on Cisco [Systems] and the other hardware incumbents with software that developers can integrate into their own applications, using well-known developer tools like Visual Studio."
Mike Gotta, an analyst with Burton Group, said Microsoft signaled at its unified communications launch event that the companys next move would be at the development level.
"Often times applications help build the business case for infrastructure," Gotta said. "In this case, if IT organizations can see how to build UC-specific applications, or augment existing applications through UC-related services, then the business case for deploying OCS becomes more comprehensive."
He said there are a lot of different combinations of APIs in the developer portal announcement.
"To some extent, this reflects some lack of maturity and cohesiveness around the developer model for Microsofts UC platform," Gotta said. "The APIs reflect a mashup of sorts due to multiple products being packaged together into a platform. Application developers are not system engineers and there probably will be some initial confusion on the various different approaches and techniques programmers can adopt to deliver UC-based systems. I would expect Microsoft over time to raise the abstraction layer up a notch and be more consistent with the different ways applications can be built with the multiple toolkits."
To read about 5 steps to unified communications, click here.
The portal also will help organizations leverage the experience developers already have with Microsoft tools, such as Visual Studio and .Net, he said. The goal is to make it easier for developers to create unified communications-enabled productivity applications and the target developer could be anyone "from the historical VB-like developer to the IT pro who might be developing at a core infrastructure level," he said.
Debique said developers are using Microsofts tools to build solutions in three main areas: contextual collaboration, business process communications and anywhere information access.
He said Microsofts unified communications platform is unique because "it is the only unified communications platform designed specifically for the Microsoft developer community. We have abstracted the complexity of communications into APIs that can be easily integrated with other software solutions."
Yet, Helm asked how many unified communications applications are there to be built.
"Microsoft hopes that it can push the cost of unified communications down to where its used in many applications that have little to do with communication, the way e-mail shows up in a lot of applications today," he said. "But its not clear that voice, video, and instant messaging integration are really going to be as useful as e-mail has been. And if developers think it will be useful, their natural tendency today might be to support vendors like Cisco, who have been in the market longer and have a bigger installed base than Microsofts."
Microsoft can counter that by using unified communications in its own applications, something Helm said its already started to do in SharePoint products and the Office suite.
"Microsoft could end up as the most important developer building on its own unified communications products," he said.
Added Gotta: "Make no mistake, Microsoft is in the UC game for the long run and fully intends to dominate it from a platform perspective."
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