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MS launches real-time comms package

Web chat, IM, VoIP, frogs and stuffed pigs

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Microsoft Tuesday unveiled a major push into communications software that allows office workers to stay in closer touch with integrated web conferencing, internet telephony and instant messaging tools. The software giant announced an updated version of Microsoft's Live Meeting web conferencing and collaboration service; Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 for corporate instant messaging; and Office Communicator 2005, an integrated communications client formerly code-named "Istanbul".

Bill Gates described the software as an "evolution of Office" that will "break down silos of information", allowing workers to communicate more efficiently. He added the software would help ensure workers are "not overwhelmed with stuff they don't care about".

I'll send an SMS to the world

Office Communicator 2005, due to be release Q2 2005, is positioned as a multi-media successor to Windows Messenger, and the preferred client of Live Communications Server (LCS) 2005. A service pack to LCS 2005 provides hooks that allow users to send messages to users on MSN, AOL and Yahoo! public IM network. Other features include improved logging capabilities and features to block nuisance SPIM (spam on IM) messages.

Microsoft plans to build presence awareness into all its software applications, so workers can view the availability of a person and whether they are in or out of the office before initiating communication. Users can then choose the most appropriate mode to begin communication by either email, phone, IM, SMS, videoconferencing and web conferencing.

Redmond is partnering with telcos such as BT and communication vendors such as Siemens and Alcatel to develop services based on its technology which it hopes will allow it to tap into the emerging web conferencing and internet telephony markets.

Geo-synchronous

Microsoft execs demonstrated Communicator and LCS 2005 during a web conference hosted in San Francisco and including participants from Los Angeles and Chicago. Gurdeep Singh Pall, a VP in Microsoft's Real Time Collaboration Group, who flew over to London to participate in what was supposed to be an international conference was sidelined during the demo.

The demo showed how users were given a caller's identity and job title (pulled from a corporate directory) when they received a call. PC to telephony integration software allows use to click on a mouse to answer calls or set up rules to forward messages to a mobile phone. The software allows users to take a phone conversation and turn it into a videoconference or web conference with multiple participants.

The software worked smoothly enough but Microsoft execs were clearly unfamiliar with dealing with the delay introduced by satellite circuits and ended up talking over each other, rather like a Robert Altman movie but without the witty banter. Echo-cancellation software might have helped. The demo was running late and ended abruptly when the satellite connection timed out and was lost but not before Troy, 'star' of US reality TV show The Apprentice, had managed to pepper the dialogue with a series of bizarre interjections. MS execs didn't know what to make of the talented celebrity's comments that he was "happy as a frog on a hot plate" or that something else was "sweating like a stuffed pig", and nor do we. ®

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