Microsoft dials up phone ambitions
Written by Daniel   
Wednesday, 17 October 2007 10:41
Microsoft dials up phone ambitions
By Ina Fried
Staff Writer, CNET
Published: October 16, 2007, 9:45 AM PDT

update SAN FRANCISCO--After years of planning its move into telephony, Microsoft is finally ready to start taking calls.

At an event here Tuesday morning, Chairman Bill Gates and Business Division President Jeff Raikes formally launched several products that are key to Microsoft's strategy of offering "unified communications" for businesses--that is, software for bringing together e-mail, instant messaging, voice mail and telephony.

The event took place at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium--a venue better known for rock concerts than tech launches. It kicked off with fog machines pumping and a rock musician playing an electric guitar signed by Gates.

"The era of dialing blind, the era of playing phone tag, the era of voice-mail jam...that era is ending," Raikes said at the event. He noted phone numbers themselves are the product of the technology limitations of the era in which they were developed.

"I don't want to get in touch with your number," Raikes said. "I want to get in touch with you."

The most significant of the new products, Office Communications Server 2007, is a considerable expansion of its predecessor, Live Communications Server, which was used mainly for corporate instant messaging. The new version can handle that task, but is also capable of managing phone calls for businesses using either traditional or Internet-based phone systems. In addition, it can plug into existing Microsoft software, such as Office and Exchange.

In addition to the core server software, Microsoft is introducing a companion desktop product, Office Communicator, and a new version of its Live Meeting videoconferencing software. It is also making available its RoundTable videoconferencing device with a 360-degree camera and recording abilities.

Gates highlighted the cost and productivity savings that can come by handling calls over a computer network.

"By moving phone calls onto the Internet using the powerful industry-standard servers, we have a very different way of doing things," Gates said at the event.

A Forrester Research study commissioned by the company found that typical customers could save $5 for every $1 spent on Microsoft's software, provided they adopt all the company's technology and switches from traditional to Internet-based calling.

The company has identified unified communications as its most significant opportunity to increase revenue in its business software unit, a unit that has been fueled largely by the success of Office.

"Frankly, it's the biggest opportunity for growth that we have," Raikes said in a March interview.... More    Comment in the Forums

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