Microsoft Ushers in Unified Communications Era

"A new way to communicate started today that will change the way we communicate," Microsoft claims.

SAN FRANCISCO—The vendor-centric PBX era is behind us and the new unified communications era is upon us, bringing innovative phones and devices, interoperable applications, an open communications software platform, and an industry-standard IT infrastructure—all from multiple vendors, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told attendees of the launch event for its unified communications software here Oct. 16.

Microsoft is taking its software and applying it to phone calls, Gates told the several hundred attendees attending the launch event.

"We are moving phone calls onto the Internet, and the performance of the hardware is helping drive this forward. The hardware is not holding us back at all," he said.

In his address, Jeff Raikes, president of Microsofts Business Division, said this launch is a big event for not just Microsoft, but for the industry as well. "A new way to communicate started today that will change the way we communicate as fundamentally as e-mail has done," he said.

Raikes also announced the release of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, which "bring together a broad range of communications options, including voice, instant messaging and video into a single, consistent experience."


Read more here about Gates thoughts on how far we have to go on the communications front.

Office Communications Server and Office Communicator make it easier for employees to communicate and collaborate with each other in real time by letting them see if the people they want to contact are available and then initiate a conversation by e-mail, voice, video or instant messaging from within Microsoft Office system applications, Raikes said.

"This makes communication and collaboration an integral part of work processes, rather than an interruption. In addition, when they use the new version of Office Communicator Mobile that is launching today, they will be able to stay connected using Windows Mobile-powered devices," he said.


Raikes also announced a service pack update for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 before detailing how Nortel Networks will offer five software-based solutions and applications to enhance Office Communications Server as part of the Innovative Communications Alliance.

For its part, Ericsson announced its Enterprise Mobility Gateway, which will be built on the VOIP (voice over IP) call management in Office Communications Server to bring office communications to mobile devices, while Mitel Networks announced plans to develop a software-based solution that leverages Office Communications Servers VOIP call management capabilities to meet the needs of small and midsize businesses in vertical markets.

"This represents the shift that is taking place in this industry," Raikes said, predicting that over the next three years more than 100 million people will be able to click-to-communicate, and they will see a 50 percent reduction in their communication costs over that same time period, he said.

While the traditional PBX will be phased out over time, many of the UC scenarios that are available today still include that. "This is an evolution, as you can take our software and put that alongside the PBX and you can get a lot of the scenarios UC brings," Gates told attendees.

But, going forward, this software-based way of communicating will be as profound as the shift from the typewriter to the PC, which we now take for granted, he said. "In 10 years from now when you see a desktop phone in a movie, you will remember the days when you had one of those on your desk," Gates said.


Dell moves into unified communications. Click here to read more.

Microsofts Unified Communications platform is based on choice, innovation, productivity and lower costs, he said, pointing to a Forrester Research study that found that customers can get a return on their UC investment of more than 500 percent.

"The reason that is so high is that you already have many of the UC components and are taking advantage of an existing infrastructure," Gates said.

Gates then announced the availability of Microsoft RoundTable, a video and VOIP conferencing device that provides a 360-degree view of a meeting room, along with wideband audio and video that tracks the flow of conversation between multiple speakers.

RoundTable, which costs around $3,000, hooks into Office Communicator software, which uses both video and audio to find the speaker. The other cameras show the other participants in the room, giving a comprehensive 360-degree view, he said.

"All of these products are important steps toward achieving our long-term vision for streamlined, integrated communications that will enable people to be more productive, more creative and to stay in touch more easily without being limited by the device they have at hand or the network they are connected to," Gates said.

Looking forward, Gates said the whole office experience will be different, with such things as a digitized whiteboard, a Microsoft Surface device to show and share documents, and the like. "The natural user interface advances are really not being recognized as much as they should be and will revolutionize the communications industry going forward," he said.

For his part, Raikes said that "the software platform plus the ecosystem is what builds velocity, and that velocity is already growing. The innovations that we are delivering today is just the start of this multiyear, many-faceted strategy of how software will continue to power communications and help information workers be even more productive."


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