Microsoft Unveils Unified Messaging Strategy

Yesterday Microsoft unveiled its plan to build software that combines email, IM, voice communications, and video conferencing into a single platform called Unified Messaging. The initial version of Unified Messaging will be targeted at businesses and will utilize new capabilities in upcoming Microsoft server products and in Office 2007.

"Communicating with colleagues and sharing information is still far too complicated," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates wrote in an executive email message to customers, noting how difficult it is to manage different email, phone, voice mail, and mobile phone systems. "Unified communications will reduce complexity by putting people at the center of the communications experience. Our goal is to integrate all of the ways we contact each other in a single environment, using a single identity that spans phones, PCs, and other devices."

According to Microsoft, all the software and hardware needed for Unified Messaging will ship by mid-2007. Beta versions of the software components will be available by the end of this year. Some of the capabilities necessary to realize this vision have previously been discussed; for example, Unified Messaging might utilize Exchange Server 2007's ability to integrate with PBX systems so that users can get their voice mail delivered with their email messages, meeting requests, and faxes. Exchange 2007 also supports a nifty feature that lets users interact with their email and scheduling information using voice control and a mobile phone.

Monday's announcement also included information about new products. Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 will provide multiuser data and support for application sharing and video, and new metadata extensions for Active Directory (AD) will let administrators manage presence information for their users. Microsoft Office RoundTable, a device that will connect to Live Communications Server, will allow for seamless multiperson video conferencing. And Microsoft's hardware partners are working on compatible USB handsets, Web cameras, and PC displays.

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