As Microsoft announced the availability of its unified communications software at a launch event in San Francisco on Oct. 16, attended by partners, press and some two thousand customers, Chairman Bill Gates sent customers an executive e-mail detailing not only how far we have come on the communications front, but also how far we still have to go.
The proliferation of communications options has become a burden that often makes it more difficult to reach people, rather than easier, he said.
Rapid advances in hardware, networks and the software that powers them are laying the foundation for groundbreaking innovations in communications technology that will revolutionize the way we share information and experiences with the people who are important to us at work and at home, he said.
"A fundamental reason that communicating is still so complex is the fact that the way we communicate is still bound by devices. In the office, we use a work phone with one number. Then we ask people to call us back on a mobile device using another number when we are on the go, or reach us on our home phone with yet another number," Gates said in the e-mail.
Click here to read more about Microsofts unified communications drive.
People also have different identities and passwords for their work and home e-mail accounts and for instant messaging, he said, noting that this would all change in the very near future as more communications and entertainment is transmitted over the Internet by e-mail, instant messaging, videoconferencing, and the emergence of VOIP (voice over IP), IPTV (IP television) and other protocols.
"A new wave of software-driven innovations will eliminate the boundaries between the various modes of communications we use throughout the day. Soon, youll have a single identity that spans all of the ways people can reach you, and youll be able to move a conversation seamlessly between voice, text and video and from one device to another as your location and information-sharing needs change," he said.
The communications expectations that young people, and anybody else who has adopted the latest digital communications tools, bring to the workplace are already changing how business is done, he said.
"To them, the desk phone is an anachronism that lacks the flexibility and range of capabilities that their mobile device can provide. A generation that grew up on text messaging is driving the rapid adoption of instant messaging as a standard business communications tool," Gates said in the e-mail.
These workers are accustomed to forming ad hoc virtual communities and to collecting and storing information online, want tools that facilitate the creation of virtual workgroups, and look to team Web sites, wikis and other digital ways of creating and sharing information, he said.
In fact, Microsoft has replaced its old voice mail system with Exchange Server 2007 unified messaging, a move that is saving the company $5 million a year through lowered hardware and maintenance costs, he said.
Dell moves into unified communications. Click here to read more.
Exchange Server 2007 also provides a software solution that enabled the integration of the traditional telephone infrastructure and VOIP with corporate messaging, calendaring and directories, he said.
"This convergence of telephony and messaging increases employee productivity and decreases the administrative workload for IT professionals," Gates said, adding that it would be hard to overstate the magnitude of the changes that were coming.
Standardized, software-powered communications technologies will be the catalyst for the convergence of voice, video, text, applications, information and transactions, making it possible to create a seamless communications continuum that extends across peoples work and home lives, he said.
"This will provide the foundation for new products, services and capabilities that will change the world in profound and often unexpected ways. This will happen not only in developed countries where access to digital technology is the norm, but also in emerging economies around the world," Gates concluded.
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