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Microsoft preps PlaceWare conferencing strategy

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PlaceWare became a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft on 30 April, and last week Bruno Giverns of PlaceWare discussed with me the role that PlaceWare will have in the newly formed Information Worker Division of Microsoft, writes Martin Langham of Bloor Research.

Microsoft had already been active in the web conferencing space. Its software includes Windows Instant Messenger, NetMeeting and the planned introduction, later this year, of the Real Time Communications Server to be known as the Microsoft Office Live Communications Server.

The missing piece was a public access service. PlaceWare caught Microsoft's eye and now its PlaceWare Conference Centre is to brought into the mainstream as Microsoft Office for Live Meetings.

Why use an external service when Microsoft will provide a Microsoft Office Live Communications Server that you can install in-house? There are two reasons.

Firstly, it is often useful to have a neutral place when you need to collaborate with external parties and you don't want them inside your firewall. But an external host has to overcome the security concerns of all the parties. PlaceWare does this by supporting its Web conferencing service on a highly secure host called iVault II.

iVault II offers 99.9 per cent service availability through a combination of fault -tolerant system design, fail-safe back-up hardware and software, and advanced load balancing technology. It is also highly secure, providing nine levels of security including motion sensors, video surveillance cameras, biometric controlled access and security breach alarms.

Secondly, when you're dealing with external parties there are tremendous technical problems in penetrating their many different firewalls. The expertise of a hosting service is invaluable in negotiating all these firewalls so that meetings can take place across many organisations with the minimum of fuss.

Microsoft plans to integrate PlaceWare closely with Office 2003. Microsoft's "Integrated Innovation" approach is an important theme for Microsoft, as they need to make their wide range of technology solutions work closely together, the better to persuade users that they need this latest version of a suite so many of them have already and find sufficient for their needs.

Interestingly, for a real-time conferencing application, Placeware Conference Centre does not do video. But then neither does Oracle Collaboration Suite, which provides similar data conferencing facilities. A video stream can be expensive to set up and, obviously, it is only practical for people with video cameras.

Microsoft does support video in Net Meeting, albeit only on a one-to-one basis. Radvision recently announced that its viaIP 400 communications platform can provide desktop multi-point in support of video, voice, and data collaboration over Microsoft's Windows Messenger and Microsoft Office Live Communications Server.

So, another piece of the Microsoft collaboration strategy falls into place. Collaboration is a key element of Microsoft approach to persuade people to move to Office 2003. This is a big bet because even though IBM and Microsoft can report very rapid, almost viral uptake of collaboration internally, no one knows how well collaboration will take off in the wider world. ®

Copyright © 2003, IT-Analysis.com

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