Microsoft Unified Communications Ready to Debut

But analysts believe getting users to replace traditional phones with a PC-based system will be a tough sell.

Microsoft will announce that its integrated Unified Communications products are ready for delivery at an event in San Francisco on Oct. 16.

The software maker, based in Redmond, Wash, will also use the event to tout how its offering is distinct from others because of the investment it has made in communications as a platform, and the opportunities this brings for a broad set of its partner ecosystem.

The event also marks the availability of two products that are core to the offering: Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007.

"They are on our price list as of the launch and so customers will be able to start buying them. We will also announce the availability of the products in most other localized languages at the event," Kim Akers, the general manager for Microsofts UC group, told eWEEK.

There have been 80,000 downloads of the beta software for Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007, while 170,000 media kits were shipped. "This is significant demand for a product that requires a fair amount of IT involvement in setting it up and keeping it running," she said.

Some 155 customers across 30 countries are also participating in the early adopter program called TAP (technology adopter program), most of which are large enterprises. They were chosen because of their large, complex infrastructures and their ability to test the technology in that environment and provide feedback.

The code for Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 was released to manufacturing July 27.

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Click here to read more about the public betas for Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007.

Many of those customers also have groups of workers inside the organization that hit the "sweet spot" for the technology: they are mobile, out-and-about and not connected to a desk, Akers said.

"However, we are seeing that, from a selling cycle, it is much easier to get the midmarket to implement this solution as there are fewer people who have to sign off on the decision. So I do expect there to be a fair amount of midmarket interest. But, from an R&D perspective, we did focus more on large enterprises," she said.

But while some, like analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group, believe Microsofts move into the unified communications space is "potentially a major game changer," it will be limited by historic PBX vendor practices of being closed and resisting technology that is externally sourced, he told eWEEK.

"Historically stuff like this takes decades to change. While this will go faster, expecting much change in even five years will likely be setting expectations too high," he said.

Microsoft executives, including chairman Bill Gates, will also talk about the work they have done with a number of core segments of its diverse partner and vendor ecosystem, from the device and hardware side to those ISVs looking to build presence into their line of business applications.

They will also discuss the work the company is doing with the PBX vendors on interoperability, as well as with those system integrators investing in building practices around unified communications that include Microsofts solution.

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Click here to read more about Exchange 2007 SP1.

"You will hear us talk at the event about the new deals and work we are doing with additional PBX vendors, as well as how we are addressing the ISV and system integrator components," Akers said.

Microsofts Unified Communications stack has Active Directory and presence at its core, with the different modes of communications above that—the messaging infrastructure, instant messaging, voice and conferencing—integrated together rather than being siloed as has been the case previously. This lets customers use any of these modes of communication from any application.

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