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.
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.
Microsoft in the Telephony Middle—Again – Page 2
Someone who also worked for Harry once explained to me that the idea behind Windows middleware was to fit all the devices—like printers, scanners and modems—to all the applications and just stand in the middle of the money stream with a big net.
By planting its IM and presence platform in the middle of an enterprise communications network and offering APIs to others legacy or IP PBXes, gateways and media servers, as well as its own VOIP clients in “Istanbul,” I can see Microsoft continuing in this tradition. In doing so, it will be offering its partners a huge user base in the form of users of its dominant desktop.
Several companies have already jumped on this invitation: At VON, Radvision announced that it would integrate its multipoint audio/video conference unit and gatekeeper with LCS. Broadsoft announced its intention to integrate its advanced call-feature server and GUI. Jasomi networks its PeerPoint session border controller for endpoint-to-endpoint control over encryption, call logging, and firewall transversal.
While Microsoft lines up its partners for VOIP, it was equally clear at VON that the IP PBX vendors themselves—who have worked in their own presence—and IM integrations are largely defecting from Windows, or at least giving customers that option. Wendy Bohling, presenting for Avaya at the IP “PBX shoot-out” presentation at VON, listed the reasons behind Avayas offering Communications Manager in Linux as being the desire to minimize virus threats, freedom from worry about constant patches, and the convenience of one user image. Nortel will offer its Business Communications Manager in Linux, Cisco its Call Manager, and 3Com its NBX.
It will be interesting to see if and how Microsoft succeeds in pressing its desktop advantage. Istanbul clients will perform as soft phones within the enterprise, probably even wirelessly on Windows-running handhelds. Add a gateway to the system and theyll call anywhere. But they dont now have the wide range of features of PBX phones. And telecom and IT managers obviously show reluctance to bet the office phone system on Windows. Indeed, Anoop Gupta, announcing Istanbul, said that Microsoft does not make PBXes.
So at this point, the question is this: If the IP PBXes have found their own presence/IM solutions, how does LCS earn its keep? Perhaps enterprises get it for secure IM and presence, and use it and its soft-phone capability in parallel with an existing legacy gatewayed PBX. Perhaps they get it to make use of already purchased XP licenses, to be used as soft extensions at home and abroad.
What other ROIs call for LCS in the middle? Feel free to tell me your thoughts.
Technology Editor Ellen Muraskin can be reached at [email protected]
VOIP/Telecom Topic Center Editor Ellen Muraskin has been observing and illuminating the murky intersection of computer intelligence and telephony since 1993. She reaches for her VOIP line when the rain makes her POTS line buzz.