Microsofts strategy seems to be based on the belief that using its Windows Live application services to integrate voice and video with e-mail and instant messaging will be the best way to continue growing its consumer communication services.
The company currently serves 205 million MSN instant messenger users and 26 million simultaneous messenger users, as well as 230 million Hotmail e-mail users, Blake Irving, corporate vice president of MSN Communication Services, said March 16 during his a presentation at the VON Conference here.
Only 9 percent of this online community currently uses VOIP (voice over IP) and video, but Irving said he believes that the new Windows Live communications services that Microsoft is deploying will allow this number to grow by as much as 20 percent during the next 12 months.
He said there are legions of high school and college-age computer users that routinely juggle multiple instant-message sessions with friends and acquaintances, and that Microsoft believes that increasingly these users will choose to move to voice and video links with selected friends and family members.
Blake demonstrated an array of Windows Live communications services that are currently being beta tested and are scheduled to be released late this year.
Leading the list is the Microsoft Windows Live Mail Desktop, which is a free e-mail client that will enable users to right-click on their contact names to start VOIP PC-to-phone or PC-to-PC voice or video conversations directly from e-mail.
Microsoft will also test Windows Live Search voice capability that will allows users to search for businesses or services on the Internet and place phone calls to phone numbers listed in the search result.
Microsoft is also working with major phone manufacturers, including Royal Philips Electronics in certain European countries, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America, and Uniden America in North America, to produce new phones that connect to a PC and enable users to work with Windows Live Messenger to make PC-to-PC and one-way PC-to-phone calls.
Users can also use these phones to make calls over the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) using their existing service providers, according to Irving.
He demonstrated for the audience how he could open a Hotmail message from colleague and click on the contact name to set up a video conference in which Irving discussed their plans to arrange a golf outing during a business trip to Washington. Also attached to the message was a search of golf courses in the Washington area.
The search included aerial photos of the golf course and surrounding neighborhood to show whether it was a good place to golf. The search also provided a phone link that would allow Irving to ring the golf course to reserve a tee time. But that part of the demo broke down, much to Irvings frustration.
Irving said these features could certainly be applied to the enterprise or SMB (small and midsize business), but that there were barriers to adoption, especially in the enterprise sector.
Corporate IT managers would not likely to favor overlaying volume-hungry VOIP systems on an existing corporate data network, both for performance and data security considerations, Irving said. But it could become more acceptable as voice and data networks continue to converge.
Furthermore, IT managers are unlikely to favor replacing existing enterprise telephone networks with integrated VOIP and messaging services, at least until they have fully depreciated their existing systems.
The Windows Live services may become more acceptable in the small business market where the business owner-manager is also the IT administrator and has the bandwidth to implement and oversee the deployment and use of the voice and video services, Irving said.