Microsoft executives announced Monday in San Francisco that the company would introduce voice technology to its current products and develop new products that link all worker communications from e-mail and instant messaging to videoconferencing and telephony, the Associated Press reports, thus taking on the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) market from within their Office products.
“In the coming years, unified communications technologies will eliminate the barriers between the communications modes – e-mail, voice, Web Conferencing and more – that we use every day,” said Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in a statement posted on the company’s web site. “They will enable us to close the gap between the devices we use to contact people when we need information and the applications and business processes where we use that information.”
Microsoft cannot achieve their unified communications vision without innovation in telephony, Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft’s Business Division, said, according to eweek.com. New software that enables the unified office communications will be imbedded in a new generation of IP phones to be developed by Microsoft partners LG-Nortel, Polycom and Thomson. Raikes added that the PC environment had seen a lot more innovation than desktop phones in recent years.
Microsoft is already involved in communications through e-mail systems, voice-messaging software and Windows Mobile, its operating system for mobile phones and Digital notepads, Forbes reports. New features will include Microsoft Office RoundTable, an audio-video collaboration device; a new version of OfficeLive Meeting and unified messaging features in Exchange Server 2007 that will allow users of Outlook voice manager to dial in and access their calendars and send changes to meeting attendees. Other unified communications products to be introduced in 2007 are Office Communication Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007.
Using the new products, a worker could receive an email and be able to set up an immediate conference call for all the recipients from within the e-mail without sending a written response, the AP says. Anoop Gupta, corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s Unified Communications Group, demonstrated seamless call management at the San Francisco meeting by placing a phone call from within a document to show a PC to phone call experience, eweek.com reports.
Linking these communications capabilities will enhance productivity, according to Jeff Raikes. “This new world of work has people at its core, and they are assisted by the software we provide to simplify the way they work together, especially across organizations and countries,” he said, according to eweek.com. “There are just too many devices out there, and workers do not have enough time to deal with the complexity associated with all of this. This wealth of devices and connectivity is also putting strain on IT administrators.”
Raikes said that research showed that the average company had 6.4 types of different communication devices and 4.8 communications applications, resulting in infrastructure islands, eweek.com reports.
Mobile communications will also be more seamless, Raikes said, according to eweek.com, putting the user at the center of the communications experience. Unified communications will be made convenient, will be integrated with collaboration tools and will work on a standards based platform. “Microsoft Office is increasingly becoming the platform where all this takes place,” Raikes said.
Flexible and trustworthy unified communications means there has to be an infrastructure where users have a single identity stored in a single directory, Raikes said, eweek.com reports. “This has to be a trusted, secure and reliable platform,” he said.
Established VoIP companies argue that Microsoft’s entry into the market will not affect their businesses. “No single technology fits all enterprise customers’ needs. We absolutely believe in the unified communication vision. But our product is on its fourth release – it’s a very mature product,” said Ruchi Prasad, vice president of enterprise global marketing for Nortel, Forbes reports.