Microsoft is increasingly preaching the gospel of open systems
and Web-based software -- especially with real -time collaboration.
Take its Office Communicator system, the platform for its MSN
Instant Messaging (IM) application, as well as its Live
Communications Server 2005, which supports its real-time
collaboration using the Web. The company today announced a release
to manufacturing (RTM) of its Web-based enterprise communications
client, Office Communicator Web Access.
Ajax the RTM release is designed to help workers (at least ones
with licenses to Live Communication Server) access not only their
own IM platform, but also communicate with other workers across
different IM platforms and enterprise networks.
"We're fuzzing the boundaries between communication and
collaboration," Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of
Microsoft's Real Time Collaboration (RTC) Group, said during a
keynote address at the Interop conference here.
And in another sign of Microsoft's embrace of open systems for
Web-based computing, the release works with all of the most popular
browsers beyond IE, such as Firefox and Opera, as well as
non-Windows operating systems.
"Rigid systems, closed systems do not have a future in the
Real-Time Internet," Pall said. "Innovation. That's what's going to
drive the Real-Time Internet." Of course, the convergence of voice
and data is a critical component of that future.
The release is the latest in a coming flurry of Web-based
software since Microsoft announced last month it would offer ad
-supported, online versions of its Office productivity suite and
Windows operating systems.
That's one of the concepts driving Redmond's latest Live
Communications Server and Office Communicator RTM release.
Using Live Communication Server 2005, people can "work remotely
or from locked-down computers or non-Windows operating systems,"
Pall added. Communicator Web Access, used in conjunction with
Microsoft's Live Communications Server, already enables
enterprise-grade connectivity among the MSN, AOL and Yahoo! public
Federating IM systems are a key factor of this shift to real,
real-time collaboration in the office. Microsoft recently joined
with Yahoo to provide federated access to each other's IM networks.
AOL and Microsoft are also working together to allow cross-platform
connectivity with enterprise users. All told, Pall said, this helps
open up a network of some 400 million IM users across the three
dominant IM platforms.
Pall, who co-authored the first VPN protocol in the
industry, said telephony is poised to experience the dramatic
changes with Voice over IP and collaboration technologies, much the
same way the browser did 10 years ago.
But real-time collaboration is more than just shoveling voice
packets over an IP network. "It's lots more than that," he said. "It
all starts with what we call identity, a globally unique (IM)
identity that you can take with you and integrate with rights
That concept, only with a more open systems message, was on
display during a demonstration of the LCS server and the Office
Communication application during Pall's keynote. For example, he
showed how one worker could access other colleagues on IM across
different IM networks, and use that IM communication as a launching
pad for other communications, such as video, mobile communication
and document collaboration.
The system enables users to make calls to traditional PBX-based
phone systems, mobile phones, as well as from one PC to another,
thanks to its integration of the SIP and SIMPLE protocols.
But this is only just the beginning, Pall said.
After all, the tech industry tends to overestimate what can
happen within three years of innovation but underestimate what can
happen in a decade. Witness the impact of the browser, which hit the
world and transformed communication with the impact of a meteorite
crashing into earth.
Back then, the Internet was the mostly the province of "propeller
heads" in IT and academia who, frankly, didn't need a graphical user
interface to communicate. Thanks to the emergence of the browser and
the Web, an estimated billion people now access the Web around the
globe daily, making real-time access to the Internet even more
critical, he added.
Yet telephony systems -- like the ones most office workers use --
haven't taken part in all that change. Many systems remain marooned
by legacy PSTN analog systems, even as more enterprises and
consumers deploy Voice over IP and turn their voice calls into
packets. "Telephony systems are the most closed systems that we've
known as technologists," Pall said. But that's changing with the
emergence of open systems that enable communication similar to
e-mail protocols, he added.
Today's RTM of Communicator provides a Web version of the desktop
version of the Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 client, and is
designed to be deployed into companies' existing infrastructures
easily, Pall said. Once it is deployed, users need only open their
Web browser, point it to a specified Web site address and enter
their credentials to access Communicator Web Access.
With IM systems now becoming more open across different
platforms, look for video to become increasingly important as part
of the collaboration mix, Pall added, including multi-party video,
which will soon be added into the Office Communicator system.
The video part is easy to deploy once the VoIP functionality is
architected, and Microsoft is moving quickly in the VoIP sector. For
example, it announced a partnership with telecommunications carrier
MCI to offer PC-to-phone service with the next version of
Windows Live Messenger, which launched a limited beta test today.
The move is another reflection of Redmond's increasing acceptance
of the critical need of open systems in order for true, real-time
collaboration to take place, and its shift to offer more of its
desktop-bound applications over the Web.
The latest upgrade is part of Microsoft's roadmap for real-time
communication technologies it has been touting all year.
Last March, for example, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said the
company's roadmap for collaboration technology started with its MSN
IM client. At the time, Gates said "we take identity and presence
and put it in the center. All the other applications connect to