Microsoft will distribute the public beta of its voice over IP and unified communications server, Office Communications Server 2007, and its unified communications client, Office Communicator 2007, to millions of testers later this month.
Microsoft is also, for the first time, making the interoperability specifications for both products available to partners.
The move should help partners deliver a unified experience with SIP interoperability between these Microsoft products and their PBX, which should help customers avoid the costs of ripping and replacing their existing telephony system.
Jeff Raikes, the president of Microsofts Business Division, will announce these moves in his keynote address at VoiceCon Spring 2007 in Orlando, Fla., on March 7.
Raikes plans to use his keynote to underscore how Microsoft feels these moves are similar to the software transformation from the mainframe to the PC, and how Microsoft views these upcoming products as the most important new communications technologies since the release of Microsoft Outlook 1997, its e-mail and personal information manager, a Microsoft spokesperson told eWEEK ahead of the keynote.
"These public betas will start at the end of the month and are open to everyone, while the products will be released to manufacturing by the end of June," the spokesperson said.
Customers can register for the public beta version of Office Communications Server and Communicator 2007 here.
Microsoft made Office Communications Server 2007 available to 2,500 companies under a private beta program last December. This server is the successor to Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005, and forms part of Microsofts unified communications portfolio.
Raikes will also use his keynote address to predict that in just three years the average VOIP solution for businesses will cost half what it does today, as VOIP systems move from hardware to software.
He also expects that 100 million people—twice the number of current business VOIP users—will have the ability to make phone calls from Microsoft Office applications in the same time frame, the Microsoft spokesperson said.
Raikes plans to tell attendees that, over time, the standard telephone will look like an old typewriter gathering dust in the stockroom as "the software-based VOIP technology built into Microsoft Office Communications Server and Microsoft Office Communicator will offer cost savings and so much value."
He also plans to describe how inefficient the standard telephone is by pointing to a Harris Interactive Service survey which found that two-thirds of business phone calls result in voice mail messages, meaning that some 25 percent of information workers spend the equivalent of three full work days each year playing phone tag and leaving messages.
Raikes also plans to point to the high cost of branded IP handsets—typically 40 percent to 45 percent of the cost of telephony installation—and how they remain a primary obstacle to corporate adoption of IP telephony.
As such, Raikes will use his keynote to stress how Office Communications Server brings a new approach to traditional telephony and will, at least in the long term, held reduce customer costs.
He also plans to talk about how Microsoft believes that companies will also be able to get more value from their existing PBX systems, networks and desk phones by using Office Communications Server to add VOIP and unified communications capabilities without ripping and replacing existing investments.
Another point Raikes is likely to touch on in his keynote is how these new products will change the way people contact each other because they provide more efficient communications such as the click-to-call features that make it possible to call someone by simply clicking on the persons name within other Microsoft Office applications like Outlook and SharePoint Server.