PlaceWare Buyout to Boost Microsoft Collaboration

Microsoft Corp.'s planned acquisition of Web conferencing service provider PlaceWare Inc. and the realignment of its Real-Time Collaboration Group are the first steps in the company's grand plan to expand its collaboration technologies.

Microsoft Corp.s planned acquisition of Web conferencing service provider PlaceWare Inc. and the realignment of its Real-Time Collaboration Group are the first steps in the companys grand plan to expand its collaboration technologies.

The PlaceWare acquisition, announced last week for an undisclosed price, is expected to close later this quarter. It will be integrated into the newly formed Real-Time Collaboration Group, which is being pulled out of the Windows group.

Also coming under the Real-Time umbrella is the Redmond, Wash., developers Exchange Conferencing Server and forthcoming Real-Time Communications Server instant messaging software, code-named Greenwich, which is expected by midyear.

Heading the new business unit is Anoop Gupta, former senior researcher in Microsoft Researchs Collaboration and Multimedia Group and a technical adviser to company Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates.

The move to give the new group its own profit-and-loss responsibilities within Microsoft is indicative of a renewed commitment to collaboration technologies at the company, observers said. Indeed, company officials said the goal is to build collaboration capabilities into everyday computing processes.

Guptas former research team focused on making audio conferencing and videoconferencing technologies more interactive and easy for users to annotate. And while Microsoft officials would not comment, observers said those technologies will likely continue to be developed in the Real-Time Collaboration Group.

"Ive seen some of the betas [of Microsoft videoconferencing technology], and its pretty impressive," said Dan Easley, president of Fugent Inc., a professional services company that uses and resells software from PlaceWare competitor WebEx Communications Inc.

"Theyre on their way to creating what could become an industry standard," Easley said.

Fugent, of Columbus, Ohio, specializes in integrated collaboration solutions. Easley said Microsoft is positioning itself well to do the same.

"The integration of all the products is key. Customers want to go to the same vendor for everything," Easley said.


Planned offerings within Microsofts Real-Time Collaboration Group:
  • Exchange Conferencing Server Add-on to Exchange 2000 Server that provides data conferencing with application sharing and multicast videoconferencing
  • Real-Time Communications Server Instant messaging server that Microsoft is expected to deliver around midyear
  • PlaceWare Hosted Web conferencing service that allows users to share Microsoft Office applications
Ross Jobber, associate director of European research for Deutsche Bank AG, in London, agreed. Deutsche Bank uses videoconferencing technology from Avistar Communications Corp. for making sales presentations and internal company use.

"The key thing for us is that were looking for ways to leverage our investment in video messaging," said Jobber. "Were looking for some way to link [Microsoft] PowerPoint presentations to video, to capture streaming media in e-mail messages. Our video messaging system doesnt have to sit alone as a stand-alone."

However, Deutsche Bank has made a significant investment in Avistars technology and has no plans to replace it with forthcoming Microsoft products any time soon, Jobber said.

Michael Sampson, an analyst with Ferris Research Inc., in San Francisco, noted the significance of having a divisional head who has Gates ear.

As such, Sampson said he expects that many of the technologies Gupta worked on in the lab will soon make their way to the market.

"Competitors could feel a chill if [Microsoft] Office applications come with a direct link to PlaceWare," Sampson said.