Microsoft in the Telephony Middle&#151Again

Microsoft's presence-aware, IM interface to any communications endpoint, from chat to video calling, is already a feature of the major IP PBXes.

Whats the idea behind Microsofts new Live Communications Server client—"Istanbul"—at the recent Voice on the Net show? An IP-based, enterprise software end point that knows which of your friends and colleagues are available at any given time, and on which devices. This upgrade of the Windows Messenger instant messaging client also improves its voice and video delivery and offers APIs to vendors that want to add their endpoints, conferencing bridges, media servers and application servers.

It also allows a geographically dispersed work force to all huddle over the same Microsoft Office documents and applications as they speak into microphones or IP phones or as they chat into boxes.

This sounds familiar to anyone whos kept up with the IP PBX market.

In terms of its goals, Microsoft is offering what all the major PBX vendors have come out with over the past 18 months. All have worked presence and instant messaging into their VOIP (voice-over-IP) and hybrid phone systems, for anyone who wants to buy the extra server. They all let you scale from chat to voice to video. What I havent seen these vendors do, of course, is imbed the IM interface so that it can be launched from within applications. But this appears, to me, to be a relatively small advantage. Within Avaya, Nortel, Mitel or Alcatel systems, for example, document and app sharing is a matter of a few more clicks. And insofar as their systems are SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), these voice switches should also be able to communicate with the world of Windows XP users, whether using enterprise Windows Messenger or consumer MSN Messenger.

The Instanbul and LCS announcements also sound somewhat familiar to anyone with sufficient Windows and telecom memory. Since Harry Newton first coined (or borrowed) the name "computer telephony" and promoted an industry in which standard computers could direct the making and taking of phone calls, Windows has wanted a big piece of that action.

/zimages/4/28571.gifMicrosoft has opened Live Communication Server up to AOL and Yahoo. Read more here.

Many open-system PBXs were built to run on Windows NT 4. Many still run on Windows 2003. Windows drivers were written for the telephony boards from Dialogic (now part of Intel) and NMS and Brooktrout that performed the actual call singling and media functions in the PC-based PBX platforms.

TAPI, Microsofts Telephony API, provided the middleware between the telephony hardware and the applications. Using TAPI, application developers could let users dial contacts with a click or forward an incoming call to voice mail. The nearest I ever came to death by PowerPoint was a 9-hour marathon session in one room on Microsofts campus one December day in 1998, where nine successive product managers told me what the latest version of TAPI, the TAPI server, and its integrations with Active Directory and SQL Server would do for telephony.

Next Page: The Microsoft promise: User base.