While the eyes of most of the industry were focused on Microsoft Corp.s belated entry into the software-as-a-service world, the company quietly made another move that could prove to be just as important in coming years.
Microsoft last week acquired Media-Streams.com AG, a small company based in Zurich, Switzerland, that develops business applications based on VOIP (voice over IP) technology. Microsoft plans to incorporate Media-Streams technologies into its corporate instant messaging platform, Microsoft Office LCS (Live Communications Server), and its Office productivity tools, giving the Redmond, Wash., company a key weapon in its increasingly contentious fight with rival Google Inc.
Google, of Mountain View, Calif., has its own voice service to go along with its industry-leading search platform and Gmail service.
For Microsoft, the acquisition will help the company work toward its goal of uniting communications tools such as e-mail; IM; SMS (Short Message Service); voice; and audio, video and Web conferencing, said Ed Wadbrook, director of VOIP strategies for Microsofts Real-Time Collaboration group.
"We have fully adopted VOIP at our site; we use [Cisco Systems Inc.s] entire flavor of it," said Jeremy Guenthner, vice president of information, technology and development for RTG Medical Inc., a medical staffing agency in Fremont, Neb.
RTG uses VOIP now to save costs and to allow employees to retain one phone number wherever they are located, but Microsofts integration of VOIP could potentially enable RTG to open up a new avenue for customers to contact the company, Guenthner said.
"In the long term, we possibly could allow people to establish a call into our call center via the Web site or voice-enabled instant messaging, which would make us all that much more accessible," Guenthner said.
Microsofts unified messaging strategy is the reason Texas Tech University chose to implement Live Communications Server, said Sam Segran, CIO of Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas.
The university, which has so far rolled out the technology to almost 700 users, sees the tool as a way to help different groups within the student body, faculty and administration more quickly and efficiently communicate with each other, said Segran.
Segran said he would like to see voice communications more integrated into LCS, but that before VOIP is a fully reliable business tool, more industry cooperation, increased reliability in the VOIP service delivery, customer confidence, and legislative realignment are required.
Media-Streams offering already is integrated with Microsofts Exchange and Outlook.
Microsoft this summer acquired another small VOIP technology provider, Teleo Inc., to incorporate VOIP into its consumer IM service, MSN Messenger.
Microsoft isnt the only company opening its wallet to acquire VOIP technologies. In August, online auction house eBay Inc. acquired VOIP specialist Skype Technologies S.A. for $2.6 billion in cash and stock, and, earlier this summer, Yahoo Inc. picked up consumer Internet telephony provider Dialpad Communications Inc.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from Texas Tech Universitys Sam Segran.