Microsoft has taken the plunge into Unified Communications with the worldwide launch of tools to integrate voice and video conferencing with its suite of desktop applications.
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Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, launched overnight by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in San Francisco, integrates Voice over IP, video and instant messaging into the Office 2007 application suite. It offers users one-click access to communication tools through Microsoft Outlook and integrates with presence, allowing users to see when others are online and available to talk.
Gates also launched a $3000 video conferencing device called RoundTable. Building on the traditional video conferencing concept, RoundTable can capture a panoramic view of video-conferencing participants sitting around a table and automatically zoom in on the current speaker.
Taking on existing Unified Communications hardware giants such as Cisco, Microsoft's software-driven approach "is about choice," said Oscar Trimboli - director of Microsoft's A&NZ Unified Communications Business Group. As part of the Australian launch, Trimboli held a joint press conference with Melbourne and Sydney to demonstrate the capabilities of Office Communicator 2007 and RoundTable.
"Typically with voice you have to buy your hardware, software and devices in an integrated stack," Trimboli said.
"Rather than needing to buy all your hardware from the same vendor, any device can plug into this platform. Microsoft is not about rip and replace, rather we're about using the investment in technology you've already got and making it all work together. Unified Communications needs to be centred around the person, not the device."
Microsoft's communication tools are faster to deploy than other offerings, Trimboli says, because staff who are familiar with the Office interface don't need to be retrained. The use of Microsoft's existing Active Directory system to manage an organisation's phone directory also simplifies management for IT departments.
To coincide with the launch, Microsoft also unveiled Unified Communications Open Interoperability, a qualification program to verify Microsoft's communications software works with a business' telephony system. Microsoft has also certified 793 communication partners worldwide since July 2007, with 23 in Australia including Dimension Data, Telstra, AlphaWest, Commander and WebCentral.
Early Australian adopters of the Office Communicator technology include Telstra, BHP Billiton and Lion Nathan. BHP Billiton has over 11,000 employees worldwide using the technology, with savings of up to $10,000 per meeting by the use of video conferencing to reduce travel costs, according to Trimboli.