Microsoft announces Office Live Meeting

Microsoft has unveiled Office Live Meeting, the first service offered as part of its Office productivity suite, signalling its...

Microsoft has unveiled Office Live Meeting, the first service offered as part of its Office productivity suite, signalling its move to bring online meetings into the enterprise collaboration platform fold.

Earlier this year Microsoft acquired PlaceWare and has enhanced and renamed the company's PlaceWare Conference Center Service. Live Meeting will continue the PlaceWare legacy, competing against market leader WebEx Communications and a host of other players.

The primary retooling to the PlaceWare technology comes in the form of a native Windows client for Microsoft Office Live Meeting. This will extend the original browser access mode to include a familiar Windows look and feel. It offers context-sensitive and file/edit/view menus for the management of meetings, as well as other Windows features such as keyboard shortcuts, roll-over icons, and the ability to drag and drop panels. The service will continue to support the browser client to ensure broad reach, but the Windows console will feature more functionality.

In this initial incarnation, Live Meeting has not yet been integrated into Office and as such will not immediately alter enterprise decision-making for web conferencing, according to Meta Group senior vice president Mike Gotta.

"Right now, [Microsoft has] an uphill battle to rebrand and reconstitute themselves as someone who can run an online service," Gotta said.

"The tipping point will come when Microsoft ties the hosted offerings to the Office family of products," Gotta said.

The Office Live Meeting service will eventually be complemented with server software offerings to give enterprises the option to choose hosted services, to install server infrastructure behind the firewall, or a combination of the two, according to Jennifer Callison, director of marketing at Microsoft's real-time collaboration business unit.

"Our vision is that the best strategy is a server-service continuum. It is better if both offerings are available - invisible to users whether they are accessing server or service," Callison said.

This future infusion into Office is Microsoft's key advantage, according to Mark Levitt, research vice president of collaborative computing at IDC.

Although other suppliers have basic integration with Outlook and other products, Microsoft will always have an advantage to provide better packaging and integration of their products with each other than the competition, Levitt said.

But because PlaceWare technology was neither Windows- nor .net-based, Microsoft must convert the technology to Windows before it can introduce software or provide hooks into Office - no small task, according to Levitt.

"I hope they take their time. It will not be an easy or quick conversion. It could take several years," he said.

Furthermore, major infrastructure players such as Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle will be aided by the trend of enterprises moving away from departmental web conferencing purchasing decisions to standardise on a broader collaboration toolset that includes online meeting functionality, according to analysts.

IBM Global Services last year began offering Lotus IM and web conferencing as a hosted service, and will tie that service more closely to its premise-based software, according to Kevin McLellan, marketing manager of Workplace collaboration products at IBM Lotus.

"We've seen the need from our customers to have flexibility in how you acquire that capability," McLellan said.

Oracle rounded out its Collaboration Suite with internet meeting capabilities. WebEx - the sector's established market leader - will need to expand the range of applications it runs on its global MediaTone Network to stay competitive with the larger collaboration platforms, Meta Group's Gotta said.

Microsoft will add presence awareness and IM capabilities to the Live Meeting environment, allowing meeting participants to see the availability status of other participants. The company also has plans in place for its incremental integration with enterprise infrastructure such as Exchange, directory services, and development environments in the future.

Cathleen Moore writes for InfoWorld

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