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Microsoft talks unified comms for Office 2007

Email and voice together, at last

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Microsoft has announced integrated software intended to turn the upcoming Office 2007 into a platform for unified voice, email, IM and video communications.

Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, named six client, server and device products plus alliances with Hewlett Packard, Motorola and Siemens as part of a carefully coordinated event in San Francisco, California, to state its vision.

Featuring in Microsoft's plans for later this year and 2007 are the Office Communications Server 2007 featuring Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) for presence-based VoIP call management, audio, video, and web-conferencing and IM within existing applications, plus Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 unified messaging that will provide a single inbox for email and voice messages along with a speech-based attendant.

Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 will work with Office Communications Server 2007 and feature presence-based, VoIP softphone, enterprise-level IM and connection to external networks such as MSN, AOL and Yahoo!. These functions will be available for desktops, Windows Mobile and via the browser.

The push in to unified communications is part of a concerted effort by Microsoft to convince customers to upgrade to Office 2007, a product that appears to offer very little in terms of must-have features. One tactic from Microsoft in prompting Office 2007 has seen the company positioning its suite as a window into data in customers' back office systems, hence Microsoft's integration with its own Dynamics software, called Snap, and SAP systems through Duet.

Put into a historical perspective this week's news is also the latest manifestation of Microsoft's battle with IBM/Lotus. Lotus first introduced the concept of integrated voice and email inbox in its Notes software prior to acquisition by IBM.

IBM, meanwhile, is this summer expected to deliver the latest version of its IM client. The Sametime 7.5 client will, like Office Communications Server 2007, lets users use IM inside Office and offers presence. Sametime 7.5 is aimed at corporate users on RIM and Nokia devices and systems running Windows Mobile. ®

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