Representatives with Microsofts real-time collaboration business unit were in New York this week to attend a conference dedicated to real-time communications. While here, they demonstrated a product about which I had only written but not yet seen: Office Communicator 2005 (code-named "Istanbul").
Communicator is Microsofts preferred IM (instant-messaging) client for business users. It comes with plenty of bells and whistles, the most obvious of which is the ability to track your colleagues availability in real time.
Sure, you can do this already to some extent with existing consumer and business IM clients. But Microsoft has a bigger vision in mind: It wants to add presence to lots and lots of applications, not just IM.
Microsoft has begun deploying presence in Microsoft Outlook. Redmonds ultimate goal: To add it to as many Microsoft and third-party applications as possible.
With presence, users can share particulars about their availability in far more detail beyond a simple "I am away from my computer right now" message. Depending on how policies and parameters are set, users can get quite granular, down to the most minute details of how they are spending their hours and minutes.
You can bet this idea appeals to bosses everywhere, especially those overseeing individuals located in remote locations.
When the Softies showed me Communicator, reveling in the promised glories of increased worker productivity, streamlined connectivity and always-on availability, all I could think was: "Let me off this train!" The fact that 49,000 of Microsofts 57,000 employees can now check the availability of everyone at the company (other than chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer) doesnt impress me. It scares me.
I grant you, I am a Luddite. A card-carrying one who just happens to write about technology, but a Luddite nonetheless. I was reticent to get a cell phone (and still dont use it a lot). I refused a BlackBerry.