Sometimes in the IT world we use two different words to describe exactly the same thing. In the messaging world, what do you call the software used to read and send email messages? Normally, we'd call it a client, whether it's a rich client such as Microsoft Outlook or a Web-based client such as OWA. In the telephony and VoIP world, though, the preferred word is "endpoint" for some reason. This week, Microsoft finally announced details of the new hardware devices that can act as clients, errr, I mean endpoints, for Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007.
The new phones come in several styles: There are desk phones with large color screens, screenless handsets, a few headsets, and even a dual-mode phone that can work with an ordinary analog line and OCS 2007 at the same time. (Find more comments about the phones on my blog.) These phones are interesting for a variety of reasons.
First, I'll point out that none of these devices can send or receive text IM messages. However, the screen phones use what Microsoft has been calling "Communicator phone experience" software to show presence data from your OCS 2007 contact roster, giving you much of the same information that you'd get through Microsoft Office Communicator. That makes it easier to know who's available and to find the right people when you need them. In addition, the Communicator phone experience includes summary information about missed calls, the number of unread emails you have, and your upcoming calendar appointments.
If you look at Microsoft's photo gallery, you'll notice that there are some unusual-looking devices. Some models don't have dial pads, which might make you wonder how you call people. After all, we're all accustomed to dialing phone numbers. However, these devices embody Microsoft's philosophy of user-centric communications. Instead of dialing Bob's phone number to reach him, you can select from a set of known numbers for Bob, or just call Bob's default number and let him use OCS call routing to determine where the call should go—which is a huge improvement over having to remember or find Bob's cell number, home number, or whatever. This capability, coupled with the ability of Exchange Server 2007 unified messaging to provide speech recognition and dialing by name through Outlook Voice Access, means you have a great tool for reaching people when you need to without carrying your entire organizational phone list wherever you go.
The phones have other unique features, too, which vary by model. Microsoft is clearly betting that the Windows Mobile model of offering lots of different devices will resonate with the marketplace. Of course, convincing organizations that they should deploy new phones at the same time as they deploy OCS 2007 and Communicator 2007 might be a tough sell; we'll have to see whether the new features and tight integration with desktop software is enough to convince people to make the switch.