Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007

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Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007

On May 30th 2006, I speculated that Windows Live Meeting 2006 was coming - the next version after Windows Live Meeting 2005. I was close -- Microsoft actually "skipped a year" and released Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, a unified communications client that works in tandem with Office Communications Server 2007, which was also announced today. This solution delivers a presence-based, enterprise VoIP “softphone” for secure, enterprise-grade instant messaging that allows for intercompany federation and connectivity to public instant messaging networks such as MSN, AOL and Yahoo! It also enables one-to-one and multiparty videoconferencing, audioconferencing, and webconferencing. Office Communicator 2007 will be available in desktop, browser-based and Windows Mobile-based versions.

Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 uses Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) standards-based protocol to enable presence-based VoIP call management, as well as VoIP communication. Unfortunately, it appears as though this solution is strictly targetting the enterprise and completely ignoring the consumer market. Although it does support SIP, it will not support all SIP based VoIP networks, but instead only connect to Microsoft's proprietary (and commercial) Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 platform.

Sure, Microsoft has partnered with public instant messaging networks such as AOL and Yahoo to offer IM connectivity, but what if I want to have my employees use my own SIP registrar server or SIP-based IP-PBX in combination with just the Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 client? Unfortunately, you can't. Stupid Microsoft does it again… When will they get it that with so many open-source solutions out there you can't get away with this proprietary stuff - proprietary solutions are so 1990s. Perhaps Microsoft should go read my recent perfect unified communications client article?

Although the Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 client CAN connect to an IP-PBX, it has to FIRST go through Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 as an intermediary. I should point out that Microsoft's smartphones (Windows Mobile 5.0) has still been fairly slow to take off as compared to Treo and other smartphones, which are often used for business applications such as email access. If Microsoft wanted to give its smartphones a shot in the arm, Microsoft should have included support in the Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 client client for ANY SIP-based IP-PBX without the need for the Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 platform. Sure, it's nice to have all the tight integration and ease of management, but hasn't Microsoft realized that most organizations are not 100% Microsoft shops? What if I want to use Microsoft's client with the popular Asterisk IP-PBX and without the commercial Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 software? Can't do it.

But if you are a 100% Microsoft shop - or at least your communications servers are - then here's what you get with today's announcement. First, Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 unified messaging will make it possible to view voicemail from traditonal PBXs and IP-PBXs in an Outlook inbox. Microsoft demonstrated an application where a user late for a meeting that is scheduled in an Outlook calendar can phone the Exchange server and tell the system to notify other participants that he or she is running late. The system, using voice recognition to interpret the message generated an e-mail notification. Another application is TTS (text-to-speech), which will enable users to have e-mail read to them by telephone. Of course, this is nothing new to the Asterisk community, which can even have the weather read to you.

Another application is Microsoft Office RoundTable, an audio-video collaboration device with a unique 360-degree camera. When combined with Office Communications Server 2007, according to Microsoft, "RoundTable delivers an immersive conferencing experience that extends the meeting environment across multiple locations. Meeting participants on site and in remote locations gain a panoramic view of everyone in the conference room as well as close-up views of individual participants as they take turns speaking."

Microsoft launched joint ventures with Motorola Inc. and Germany's Siemens AG. Microsoft will supply its Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 for use in Motorola HC700 series mobile computing devices and the new sexy Motorola Q smart phone. Also, Siemens HiPath 8000 softswitch real-time telephony will be integrated with Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft Office Live Communications Server.

Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 is scheduled to be released in late 2006 or early 2007. Microsoft Speech Server 2007 will be available in late 2006. Communications Server 2007, Communicator 2007, Communicator phone experience, Live Meeting, RoundTable and the IP-enabled business desktop phones featuring Communicator phone experience will complete Microsoft’s unified communications solutions and are scheduled to be available in the second quarter of 2007.

Update: 3/28/2007 - some further thoughts.
Although I knocked Microsoft and called them "stupid" for choosing to go the proprietary route, I went and visited Microsoft to see a demo of Office Communications Server 2007 in action. I have to say I was impressed and perhaps I was a bit harsh in calling them "stupid". With any software, at some point you will have to develop your own proprietary code. Even with open standards in many areas, open standards will never anticipate every single feature or option. What Microsoft has done is leverage the SIP VoIP standard to allow you to use any SIP endpoint you want (Cisco phone, Polycom phone, etc.) but if you want the power and functionality of OCS 2007, such as presence, then you have to use their softphone client (Office Communicator). A fair compromise IMO. Microsoft is also partnering with hardware phone manufacturers to embed the OCS code in the IP phone so you get the same functionality of the Office Communicator client. Microsoft has put a lot of work into OCS 2007 to make it tightly integrated with Active Directory and Exchange 2007, which lends itself to making enterprise employees more productive. I'll have a comprehensive review on OCS 2007 in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

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