Microsoft messaging client rings up telephony

The software maker has outlined its plans for Istanbul, a product that aims to give users a single view of Outlook, instant messaging and even traditional telephone networks.

BOSTON -- Microsoft will release a beta early next year for a unified messaging client for real-time communications, the software company said Tuesday at the VON Conference & Expo.

Code named Istanbul, the software will integrate core communications functions such as Outlook and Exchange, instant messaging, video, presence information, and perhaps most importantly, be able to connect users to traditional telephone networks, according to Andrew Sinclair, director

Being a business-ready product trumps what people are used to getting from AOL and Yahoo.


Robert Mahowold, analyst, IDC

,
of Live Communications Server at Microsoft.

The client will eventually be sold as part of Microsoft's LCS product package. One of its key features is to provide a migration path from the traditional circuit-switched telephony network to VoIP, Sinclair said. "We believe VoIP will happen but it hasn't happened yet," he said. "Customers have said they want more than a just replacement for [time-division multiplexing]."

Whether this client helps Microsoft gain a foothold in internal enterprise telephony isn't clear, but all of a sudden this becomes possible, experts said. As a business-facing client, Istanbul does a good job showing Microsoft's strengths, said Robert Mahowold, an analyst at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass.

"Being a business-ready product trumps what people are used to getting from AOL and Yahoo," he said.

LCS 2005 to launch by year's end

Microsoft also said it will release Live Communications Server 2005, its enterprise IM software, at the end of this year. One of the most important new features of LCS 2005 -- federation with public IM clients such as Yahoo, MSN and AOL -- will come as

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an add-on package after the product ships. It's a big step, since many IT executives have seen lack of interoperability as a major hindrance to corporate IM adoption.

"The ability to get value outside of your organization by getting in touch with the public networks is halfway to the Holy Grail of IM," said Nate Root, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

Apart from federated IM connections, Istanbul's unified communications is the next step in Microsoft's evolving presence strategy, Root said. "There has been this explosion of communication paradigms on the desktop and someone has to bring them together," he said.

The client will offer users one address book, generated by Active Directory, and integrate the features of a company's PBX phone system.

Pace of IM tryouts picking up

Forrester said that about one-fourth of corporations are expected to consider or pilot corporate IM products this year, and that roughly 10% to 15% of companies have some kind of enterprise IM system in place. Early adopters are usually concerned about adhering to federal regulatory rules that require companies to have all message traffic recorded.

Root said he still needs to be convinced that today's IM products will really be the ones that customers embrace. "The gamble [for Microsoft] is they can make it simple and unified this time," he said.

But at a high level, it also comes down to corporate culture, he said. Unified messaging is not the kind of tool you force on IT, because it's not the kind of thing they can force on users. "It's a tough hurdle," he said.

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