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Microsoft Touts Next-Generation Corporate IM Product with VoIP Support

 At the Fall 2004 Voice on the Net (VON) Conference & Expo in Boston yesterday, Microsoft announced that it's delivering a beta version of its next-generation corporate Instant Messaging (IM) product, code-named Istanbul. Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of the Real-Time Collaboration (RTC) Business Group at Microsoft, revealed the product and outlined his company's plans for RTC solutions.
"Customers depend on real-time communications to make more informed, timely decisions, and to stay better connected with their customers and grow their business," Gupta said. "With Istanbul, \[Microsoft Office\] Live Communications Server, and \[Microsoft Office\] Live Meeting, we are providing pervasive real-time collaboration capabilities and empowering our customers to work together more effectively. Istanbul represents a milestone by integrating various modes of communications in one unified desktop experience."
According to Gupta, Istanbul will combine IM with presence functionality, video and voice chatting, and Voice over IP (VoIP)-based telephony services. The presence functionality is a feature Microsoft has been promising for its communications products for some time. It will tell users where online contacts are physically and how they're connected to the network (i.e., via PC, smart phone, or another method). The VoIP services are a new development and will let users make phone calls using inexpensive IP-based networks such as the Internet. 
Gupta said that integrating so many communications services into one product will let users choose how to respond to communications based on their current capabilities and needs. For example, if you receive an email, you can choose to respond via IM or a VoIP phone call. You can also use Istanbul to set up instant remote meetings with other contacts. These meetings can include up to 25 people and feature file-sharing and document-collaboration capabilities between the attendees.
Microsoft is positioning Istanbul--along with existing products such as Live Communications Server and Live Meeting--as part of the Microsoft Office System product family. This approach suggests that Istanbul will be a licensed rather than free product and will likely require Live Communications Server on the server end. Microsoft says it will ship the Istanbul client in the first half of 2005.

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