Thursday, 08 March 2007 03:19

Microsoft readies move into VoIP server market

A beta version of Microsoft's VoIP server software will appear this month, the company has announced.

Office Communications Server 20007 and Office Communicator 2007 will together provide voice calls along with audio and video conferencing, text chat, and web-based document sharing, as well as integrating with other Microsoft applications.

Millions of people are expected to be involved in the beta test.

For everyday users, one of the most important features of the Office Communications Server/Office Communicator combination will be the ability to 'click to call' another person by clicking on their name within Office applications including SharePoint.

Other benefits include having access to the same set of communications tools in the office, at home, or while travelling. Microsoft's new software is designed to provide secure remote access without requiring a VPN.

For administrators, Microsoft is promoting the way Office Communications Server is compatible with existing management tools. The company also stresses that its approach removes the need for expensive proprietary handsets.

Within three years, the average VoIP business system will cost half of what it does today as a result of moving from hardware to software-based systems, predicted Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division.

"Software is set to transform business phone systems as profoundly as it has transformed virtually every other form of workplace communication," said Raikes. "Over time, the software-based VoIP technology built into Microsoft Office Communications Server and Microsoft Office Communicator will offer so much value and cost savings that it will make the standard telephone look like that old typewriter that's gathering dust in the stockroom."

Presence - the ability to see whether other people are available and by which channel - is an important aspect of unified communication systems such as Office Communications Server/Office Communicator. Being able to see a colleague's status can reduce time wasted in telephone tag, and reduce delays. For example, someone taking part in a lengthy teleconference might signal their availability for urgent questions via instant messaging.

Microsoft is a late entrant to the software-based VoIP PBX market - the open-source Asterisk has already built a solid reputation. But the widespread use of Office and Microsoft's ability to integrate its own products are likely to prove a major advantage.

To allay lingering concerns about call quality, Microsoft commissioned a voice quality evaluation of Office Communications Server and Office Communicator by quality of experience assessment specialist Psytechnics. "Results show that calls made with the Microsoft software deliver superior voice quality to the single-purpose IP phone" from an IP market leader, Psytechnics officials stated.

Importantly, Microsoft is releasing the interoperability specifications for Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 to its partners, allowing integration with existing telephony systems. At the same time, the new software does bring Microsoft into direct competition with companies such as Avaya and Cisco.

Microsoft is accepting pre-registrations for the beta via

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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