Microsoft’s VoIP moves

They’ve got your desktop, and now Microsoft is after your phone. No, not the mobile one.With the launch of Office Communications Server 2007, Microsoft is aiming to start connecting desktop phones to its software, become a unified communications supplier and ultimately get a piece of the voice over IP software market.

Office Communications Server 2007 supports Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), allowing it to connect to private branch exchanges (PBXs) and the public switched telephone network. And the company has developed a reference architecture for phones to work with its software and signed deals with nine companies that will make those phones.

According to Bryan Rusche, product manager for Exchange Server in Microsoft Canada Co.’s Unified Communications Group in Mississauga, Ont., the first phones to come out of this arrangement should be appearing this month, and more will be along in the fall.

They’ll be coming from AsusTek Computer Inc., GN, LG-Nortel Co. Ltd., NEC Corp., Plantronics Inc., Polycom Inc., Samsung, Tatung Co. and Vitelix, Microsoft’s nine initial hardware partners. Microsoft isn’t planning to make any phones itself. “Our long-term vision is not to become a hardware vendor,” Rusche says.

There will be devices that connect to the PC using Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Bluetooth connections. There will be headsets and conferencing systems and Internet Protocol (IP) phones.

Microsoft is touting the benefits of unified communications – voice and e-mail and instant messaging through a single platform, dialing your phone from within applications and the like. By integrating Office Communications Server with Exchange, for instance, Microsoft will be able to put e-mail and voice mail in a single in-box. The company is also talking about routing calls to telecommuters’ homes and other locations.

Unified communications isn’t a new idea, even though if you didn’t know better you might get the impression Microsoft invented it. But it’s an especially useful idea for a company like Microsoft that is strong in software – including e-mail – and wants to get a foothold in voice.

What Microsoft really has to offer is its dominance on the desktop and server. If the developers in Redmond can come up with some interesting and useful ways to tie voice in with Windows, Exchange and Microsoft Office applications, they can build a case for using their software for voice.

And if they can do that, then what? Rusche says that in some cases, Office Communications Server can actually take the place of the PBX. The best way for Microsoft to get a foothold in that market, though, is to tie a voice offering in with its existing products – which is what seems to be happening with Office Communications Server 2007.

A public beta version of Office Communications Server 2007 is already available and the final product will likely be shipping by the time this issue appears. Users won’t necessarily want to jump at it right away. Microsoft is a new kid on the block and there are other, more established vendors who can offer VoIP and unified communications. If Microsoft exploits a linkage between voice and the product segments where it is already strong, though, it could become a contender in VoIP.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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