Back to the Future with the MS Real-Time Communication Server

PC phone home

Broken CD with wrench

If you saw the film "Back To The Future Part 2", you may remember the episode where Marty McFly was sacked by a combination of FAX, email video, mobile-phone, etc. - a true multimedia sacking, Martin Langham
Bloor Research writes
.

This was a perceptive vision of the future because it is certainly not possible yet. Today we have desk phones, email, mobile phones and instant messaging in different and hard-to-manage communication domains.

The communication devices that we use are not versatile enough to pull these different domains together. To use the advanced functions of 3G phones you need to look at the screen and use a keyboard. This not the easy thing to do when you are holding it to your ear!

The desk phone has changed very little in function and intelligence beyond acquiring a small LCD strip. Few desk phones can handle even text messages and they hardly pull their weight as a partner to advanced mobile phones.

Earlier generation mobile phones became much more popular when they could connect to land lines. It is going to be equally important for manufacturers of 3G phones to be able to use videoconferencing and other advanced services between a mobile phone and a desk phone.

Integrating the communication domains will make life simpler but this requires more powerful terminals than today's desktop phone. Step forward the PC, closely followed by Microsoft. Microsoft executive Peyton Smith recently declared at an industry conference that office phones were destined to "collect dust". Microsoft's Real-Time Communications Server will be the vehicle for delivering this new capability starting with Instant Messaging.

To support this vision, Microsoft has installed a key standard - Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) in Windows XP. Using the SIP protocol, PCs can signal each other in real time to handle instant messaging, indicate "presence", notify events, set up phone calls and initiate videoconferencing. SIP could well become the HTML of real-time communications on the Internet.

A key advantage of SIP over the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) is that it allows you to know if someone is available before the call is made. You can then use the most appropriate communication tool instead of, for example, being unprepared to leave a voice-mail message.

In a more complex application, you can receive a text message from a mobile phone, send more instant messages to colleagues and then establish a conference between people at their desks and people on mobile phones. All this can be done on the same PC screen using SIP and video conferencing software by pointing-and-clicking and dragging-and-dropping. First Virtual Communications are one Web conferencing vendor that can provide this capability.

Microsoft plans to extend its Real-Time Communications Server into more areas than Instant Messaging. Developments planned include different sets of "buddy lists" that change according to the current task and presentation of all related emails when a contact is called. These new functions will be provided with the added advantage of cheap voice calls over the Internet.

Quality is a key issue that will affect the uptake of these services - even these days it can be a struggle to get good voice quality over a 64Kbps line and video can suffer from lip-synch problems and delays. But the speed and reliability of the Internet is improving all the time.

In the future Marty McFly will be sacked via a wide range of multimedia but perhaps the only agent that will not play its part will be the POTS.

© IT-Analysis.com

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