Microsoft is developing a front-end application for its upcoming Live Communications Server (LCS) 2005 instant messaging server that links LCS 2005 with end-users' telephones.
The new application, code-named Istanbul, adds another way for reaching LCS users, on top of existing avenues such as instant messaging and voice and video.
"For the first time, end-users will be able to think of their enterprise PBX phone as part of the overall real-time collaboration infrastructure," said Ed Simnett, lead product manager at Microsoft for Istanbul.
The application can also be configured to dial cell phones and lines outside of a company's internal switchboard, he said. "Any phone becomes an addressable end point to LCS."
Istanbul, scheduled to ship before the end of June 2005, will be the preferred front-end to LCS 2005, which Microsoft plans to ship before the end of this year.
The front-end to LCS 2003, the server's current version, is Windows Messenger. Istanbul isn't designed for LCS 2003, and while Microsoft will continue to support Windows Messenger, it's unlikely there will be a 6.0 version of the product, Simnett said.
Another improvement in Istanbul is a deeper integration with the Microsoft Office product family, so that, for example, an Exchange user's out-of-office message will show up not only when someone sends him an e-mail but also when someone tries to reach him via LCS 2005. Istanbul also features improved audio and video capabilities, such as a larger video screen.
"This is a major effort on Microsoft's behalf to merge the idea of real-time computer communication and real-time phone communication. The primary benefit of this is tying instant-messaging type clients to the PBX infrastructure that most big firms already have," said Nate Root, an analyst with Forrester Research.
Still, in the near future, Microsoft will face a challenge to promote Istanbul's adoption because there isn't a lot of demand yet among enterprise users for this type of functionality, Root said. "Istanbul is a solution for a problem most users and companies don't know they have. This is true of any radically new communications paradigm," he said.
Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service