Big Deal: Microsoft Integrated VoIP Enters Public Beta

Kachina Shaw

Microsoft makes an announcement about selling 20 million Vista licenses, and the Web loses its collective mind for a week over whether the comparison to XP license sales is valid, whether the licenses have been sold to customers or just to resellers, and why Microsoft is using its marketing department for marketing.


The same week, Microsoft announces that its VoIP and unified communications server and client, Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007, are open for public beta, and everyone remains relatively composed.


So it goes with buzz vs. news -- especially when Microsoft is involved.


Back in mid-2006, Microsoft revealed its roadmap for a unified communications strategy and "partner ecosystem" centered on grabbing hold of the enterprise VoIP market (which Juniper Research yesterday predicted would reach $15 billion by 2012) by embedding IP voice (along with IM, presence, Web conferencing, video conferencing, et al) into Microsoft Office. The plan was to come to fruition around the middle of 2007.


Here we are, approaching the middle of 2007, and could the timing be better for an integrated enterprise productivity and collaboration software announcement from Redmond?


The VoIP-only providers have been nervously watching the big players in telecom and cable leverage their subscriber rolls (and they include SMBs along with consumer users) and greater ability to add features for some time. They've survived, and even proliferated, in a scattered and immature market, but predictions that 2007 would be the year of market consolidation for enterprise VoIP haven't been too hard to find -- even without mention of the Redmond effect.


And, as it happens, these public betas are hitting just as providers and businesses are assessing the impact of the patent infringement suit brought by Verizon against Vonage. Yes, Vonage is still primarily a consumer VoIP provider. But as IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk has pointed out, the case creates a wide-reaching sense of nervousness about not only intellectual property patents but licensing costs, as well. Does this boost the fortunes of the biggest VoIP players, who will be eyeing acquisition targets carefully? It sure does.


In the midst of all this action, Microsoft's approach toward plopping down Office-integrated IP telephony on millions of desktops -- a feature that, with its collaboration, cost savings and cool factor will likely take off like gangbusters within Microsoft shops -- is actually a very big deal.

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