Microsoft is expected to unveil new network communications software tomorrow at the 2005 VON Conference in San Francisco. Codenamed “Istanbul,” the product will let businesses manage telephones, instant messaging, e-mail and video conferencing through a unified system.
The company hopes Istanbul will build on the recent success of its Microsoft Office Live Communications Server and Microsoft Office Live Meeting. Microsoft announced the real-time collaboration client in October 2004 at the Fall VON Conference in Boston.
“Customers depend on real-time communications to make more informed, timely decisions, and to stay better connected with their customers and grow their business,” said Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Real-Time Collaboration Business Group. “Istanbul represents a milestone by integrating various modes of communications in one unified desktop experience.”
Enhanced Windows Messenger
Peter Pawlack, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told TechNewsWorld that Istanbul is essentially a rewrite of Windows Messenger, a net meeting-instant messaging client that the company is no longer carrying forward in its Real-Time Collaboration Business Group.
Pawlack said Microsoft has made some major improvements in the rewrite, including enhancing voice capabilities and allowing users to transmit streams of real-time communication over the network. But that’s not the big news, he said.
“The big news is that Microsoft has designed the new system to take into account gateways to the public switch telephone network,” Pawlack said. “These gateways will allow Istanbul users to place outside calls and receive incoming calls routed to desktops through the Istanbul client. That enormously boosts the value of the voice capabilities that have been there all along.”
A Central Hub
With tech giants like Cisco and Nortel Networks and telcos like AT&T and SBC pushing down the VoIP path, Microsoft is challenged to find a fit for itself in the telephony race. Analysts said the company hopes to leverage its Live Communications Server as a central hub to securely maintain information.
That will allow Microsoft to offer a feature called “presence,” which is a function that measures the status of a user’s ability to communicate and be communicated with at any given moment. It includes the medium of reception, the user’s availability and his or her willingness to communicate via various means and with people.
“Live Communications Server is the matchmaker that gets everybody set up and introduced and authenticated and then it steps out of the way while you are having your conversation for voice or video,” Pawlack said.
Microsoft’s VoIP Role
In one sense, Microsoft has been involved in VoIP for years, according to industry insiders. What’s new is the company’s interoperability strategy, which will let users communicate with other types of instant messaging systems and devices. Pawlack said Istanbul is one more step down the interoperability path for Microsoft.
But there are clear challenges for the software giant, which has to compete and cooperate with companies like Cisco and Nortel at the same time. It’s a delicate area, said Pawlack.
“There’s a bit of a dance going on there,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Microsoft wants to make sure it doesn’t alienate a partner like Cisco. But at the same time Cisco has standards that are not completely compatible with what Microsoft is doing and may not find it in its best interest to follow Microsoft’s lead in some of those areas. That’s a challenge.”