Microsoft Churns Messy Unified Communications Market with Announcements

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It's going to be "messy" in the unified communications market for the next five to 10 years, says Forrester Principal Analyst Henry Dewing in a News.com piece today covering the launch of several Microsoft software products, presented by Bill Gates himself in San Francisco today.


With Microsoft's Office Communications Server 2007 building on Live Communications Server, the desktop Office Communicator, and a new version of Live Meeting released, the UC battle between Microsoft and Cisco is joined again. Microsoft is touting a Forrester study it sponsored that concluded companies could save five dollars for every dollar spent on Microsoft UC software, and Business Division President Jeff Raikes says this is the company's biggest growth opportunity. Of course, the study said that those companies could reap those fivefold rewards if they purchased the entire array of Microsoft UC products, so if Redmond can pull that off, it's right on the money, so to speak, about that growth opportunity.


What does the messy market mean, and can it be avoided? Because neither Microsoft, which envisions UC expanding all through desktop software, nor Cisco, which envisions it as a wholly network-based solution, can provide the entire package, companies must plan to rely on both market leaders for the foreseeable future, Dewing says.


Burton Group Principal Analyst Michael Gotta told IT Business Edge earlier this year that when Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers claimed his company had a three-year lead over Microsoft in UC, he was right -- because he could define UC any way he wanted to get the desired result. The meaning is just that wide open. But he also leaned slightly toward an advantage for Microsoft, based on its partner channels and developer community. Cisco, he said,

needs to become a software company, and there is not a lot of good history of hardware companies becoming software companies.

Blogging from Gates' presentation today, though, InfoWorld's Ephraim Schwartz says Microsoft has already missed the point. Gates' narrow focus on the time saved by keeping employees from calling coworkers or others who aren't sitting at their phones means little in the larger picture. You can save 37 minutes a day per user that way? Big deal, he says. The huge savings would come from using presence within ERP or CRP apps, and watching approval processes and order fulfillment times shrink. Perhaps broadening the UC strategy from its comfort zone on the desktop to integrating with the entire enterprise workflow would make Microsoft's strategy one that Cisco just couldn't overcome in the long term.


In a letter to customers today, Gates wrote:

Among the products we'll launch are Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, which bring together a broad range of communications options including voice, instant messaging, and video into a single, consistent experience. Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator make it easier for employees to communicate and collaborate with each other in real-time by letting them see at a glance if the people they want to contact are available. They will also be able to initiate a conversation by email, voice, video, or instant messaging from within Microsoft Office system applications .... In addition, when they use the new version of Office Communicator Mobile that is launching today, they will be able to stay connected using Windows Mobile-powered devices. ... Standardized, software-powered (emphasis mine) communications technologies will be the catalyst for the convergence of voice, video, text, applications, information, and transactions, making it possible to create a seamless communications continuum that extends across people's work and home lives.

Whether it's entirely software-based remains to be seen, but the larger trend is one that must be part of strategic planning, through the messy years and beyond.