Microsoft unveiled its vision of the future of business communications on Tuesday. Chairman Bill Gates said in a statement that the new "unified communications" products will help reduce the cost of the average corporate VoIP system by half.
Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, went further. "Unified communications software," he said in a statement, "will transform business communications as fundamentally as e-mail did in the 1990s."
The products include Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, Office Communicator 2007, Office Live Meeting, Roundtable, and a service pack update for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. The company said that Unified Communications Open Interoperability standards would qualify telephony systems, so that products could be certified as working with Microsoft's unified communications software.
Savings of 30 Percent
The launch event, held in San Francisco, showcased several corporate customers that the Redmond, Washington-based software giant said had made "dramatic time savings" and cost savings of up to 30 percent over traditional systems by using the new tools. These companies included Gibson Guitar, Global Crossing, Quanta Computer, The Shaw Group, Virgin Megastores, and Volvo.
Systems integrators, software vendors, mobile device manufacturers, and telephony providers pledged their support for Microsoft's unified communications platform. For instance, Ericsson said its Enterprise Mobility Gateway will be built on the VoIP capability in the new Office Communications Server, to reduce costs for enabling office communications in any mobile device.
Mitel Networks said it would leverage the VoIP call-management capabilities in the Server for the small- and medium-business markets. And SAP said it would integrate the unified communications platform into its Duet product, which gives Office applications access to SAP processes and data.
Integrate and Streamline
The new products and versions are intended to integrate and streamline the communications flows that threaten to engulf the average information-laden employee and enterprise. Communications Server 2007, for instance, delivers VoIP, video, instant messaging, conferencing, and "presence" to Office applications, as well as to upcoming versions of the company's Dynamics ERP and CRM releases.
Office Communicator 2007 provides voice, IM, and video on mobile devices as well as on the PC, and Office Live Meeting enables collaborative meetings "from virtually any computer." For those who want that 360-degree sense of presence, RoundTable is a conference phone with a camera that can track the speaker or videotape meetings.
Gartner analyst Mark Margevicius said that nothing in the new releases "knocked my socks off." But, he added, Microsoft customers will now be comfortable spending money in this space and he pointed out that the new platform does say a lot about the new Microsoft. "This is a company that still generates most of its income" from shrink-wrapped products, he said, but now it clearly understands the software business is not just about new features on a given product.