Video: Microsoft releases, demos beta of Office Communications suite

Video: Microsoft releases, demos beta of Office Communications suite

Summary: Today, Microsoft is releasing the beta version of its latest unified communications suite. The pair of solutions is known as Office Communicator 2007 (the client side) and Office Communicator Server 2007 (the server side).

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Today, Microsoft is releasing the beta version of its latest unified communications suite. The pair of solutions is known as Office Communicator 2007 (the client side) and Office Communicator Server 2007 (the server side). In favor of Office Communicator Server (OCS), Microsoft is dropping the old product name Live Communications Server (2005) or LCS. To fill you in on the all the details, we've got a video interview and Office Communicator demo session with Microsoft Unified Communications group product manager Paul Duffy, a podcast-only audio version of that interview (that, with the Flash player above, can be streamed, downloaded, or it will show up in your audio player automatically if you're subscribed to my podcast feed), and, in addition to this blog post, an image gallery with 15 screen shots showing Office Communicator in action. The video and podcast start off with a whiteboard discussion that lays out the principal architecture of Microsoft's unified communications approach, diagramming how everything fits together.


  See our video of Office Communicator 2007 in action: To get a better idea of how Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 works, David interviewed Microsoft 's Group Product Manager Paul Duffy who talked about Microsoft's philosophy behind the software and then gave a demo. To see the demo, just check out the video.  Image Gallery: Want images? Have we got images. In addition to the video, we've prepared a gallery of images that shows some of the various user interface elements of Microsoft Office Communicator 2007  

If there will be an amazingly compelling reason to go all-Microsoft for your office suite (as in Microsoft Office), your document sharing infrastructure (as in Sharepoint), your e-mail and scheduling system (as in Microsoft's Exchange and Outlook), your data/voice conferencing (as in Microsoft's NetMeeting), and your instant messaging, then Office Communicator is it. So deeply and contextually can Office Communicator's DNA be integrated into the rest of Microsoft's solutions that there is probably no other glue in all of Microsoft's portfolio that so elegantly demonstrates the company's strategic vision for making knowledge workers more productive at what they do. If you look back across much of what I've written about Microsoft, it's not often that I heap praise on any of the company's solutions. Compared to alternatives in the market, going the multi-app route with Microsoft is usually a proprietary route that involves additional expense (eg: the cost of Microsoft Office vs. OpenOffice.org or Corel's Wordperfect Office).

I spend a lot of my editorial looking at disruptive technologies that fly in the face of expensive properietary approaches. But, given the way its features turn up across the rest of Microsoft's portfolio of software, Office Communicator proves that sometimes, proprietary has its advantages. If standards bodies started working on all the interfaces that would be needed for a mix and match of third party products to produce the same final result as a complete suite from Microsoft, it probably would be another decade until we saw the fruits fo that effort. So, what's changed in the new suite of unified communications solutions from Microsoft besides its name? As far as I can tell, there are three and a half big changes.

The first of these is OCS' ability to incorporate voice and video communications. Whereas LCS primarily focused on messaging (instant, e-mail), now voice is a part of the formula. In fact, when the time comes to communicate with someone through the Office Communicator client, the end-user can attempt to make contact through any number of ways including voice, video, e-mail, and instant messaging. The second of these is Microsoft's centralization of what is best referred to these days as Web conferencing. Whereas before (in Microsoft's scheme of things), Web conferencing (which can include screen/application sharing, voice, video, and other data) was primarily done through the company's NetMeeting solution (and "net" meetings were easily scheduled via Microsoft's Outlook and Exchange), now, because of the way Office Communicator now supports all communications types, not only can pre-arranged Web conferences be pulled together through Office Communicator, but so too can ad-hoc conferences (including plain old conference calls). Imagine for example how today, when instant messaging with two or three people in separate windows, you can invite all of them to join a group chat. With Office Communicator, that can be a voice conference call, a video conference call, a group chat, or a WebEx style (NetMeeting in Microsoft's parlance) Web conference (see image below for the different ways an e-mail sender can be replied to).    Continued below.....

The "half" in the aforementioned "three and a half big changes" is how OCS can integrate with the public telephone network by virtue of its ability to interface with a company's private branch exchange (PBX). The big benefit of this is that any Voice over IP-based (VoIP) communication taking place through the Office Communicator client can be bridged to a regular landline or cell phone. In other words if I was on Office Communicator, I could launch what is basically a VoIP-based communication, but I can dial-out to anyone's regular telephone. This works for dialing someone inside my company (eg: someone to whom Office Communicator isn't available) as well as outside the company. This sort of VoIP to PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) call obviously comes in addition to the standard VoIP to VoIP calls that Office Communicator can naturally make to other Office Communicator users. 

One key benefit however is that now, with what Microsoft refers to as an OCS Edge Server, users on VoIP and/or Web conference-capable devices (eg: notebooks and Windows Mobile-based smartphones) who are outside the corporate firewall can be included in communications as well. Closing the book on flexibility, OCS' PBX integration even makes it possible for someone on the public telephone network to dial into (PSTN-to-VoIP style) an Office Communicator-based VoIP user (the rough equivalent of Skype-In to those of you familiar with Skype).

The net result of this PSTN flexibility as well as Office Communicator's ability to support multiple communication types means that conferences (pre-arranged or ad-hoc) that might normally have excluded one or more people on the basis of their location (outside the firewall) or the technology at their disposal (a phone instead of software) no longer have to exclude anyone. For example, if you received an e-mail today and realized you had to pull six people together immediately for a voice-enabled Web conference to look at some slides, if one of those people was on a laptop at Starbucks and another was on a cell phone at an airport, both could be pulled into the call in a heartbeat. The person on the cell phone might not be able to see the slides, but at least they could be dialed-in.

Another big advantage of the the voice integration is ability for users to transfer their own connection from one device to another. For example, if you were on a standard VoIP call or conference through Office Communicator and you need to transfer the call to another device (see image of this in progress), for example your cell phone, it is easily done.

The third big change (of the "three and a half big changes") is the contextual integration of Office Communicator into virtually every major product in Microsoft's application portfolio where collaboration plays a role. The key ingredient of this integration is the contextual inclusion of "presence" at any point some other person's identity shows up. For example, in the recipient or sender fields of an e-mail. Or, in the Office Communicator client itself. Or, where the author's name appears on a document being shared through Microsoft's Sharepoint. Once you, as a user of Office Communicator set your presence (something your calendar in Exchange can do automatically for you based on your schedule), then, no matter where your name appears, not only can others  see (using a small icon) whether you're available or not, but they can also get more details. You can, for example, apply more text to your presence to indicate exactly what you're doing and when you'll be done and when others hover over your name in just about any collaborative application of Microsoft's, they'll see that message. 

It's also from this contextual appearance of your presence in all of Microsoft's applications that others can not only choose to contact you, but they can choose to contact you based on exactly how you're able to be contacted at that point in time. For example, maybe you can only be reached on your cell phone. Even better... if they try to reach you at your office, you can set Office Communicator to forward all inbound VoIP calls to your cell phone (thanks to OCS's PBX ability to integrate with the corporate PBX).

Another example of context sensitivity (show in the screen gallery) is how you can reply to someone's e-mail (or a Sharepoint document) with a VoIP call, and, when that incoming call shows up on someone else's desktop, it will reflect the subject of the e-mail (nice touch!). 

As said earlier, a lot of this integration is the realization of Microsoft's vision for how to use its software assets to make knowledge workers in a collaborative environment more productive. Under the hood, there's clearly some connectivity that would take others a long time to reproduce in a standards-based environment which is why I refer to the solution as proprietary. That's not to say that others can't figure out how to tie into Microsoft's unified communications infrastructure with non-Microsoft solutions. A lot of that capability to tie in is available through APIs that Microsoft makes available to developers. Although standards support could always be better (for example, solutions could default to use open standards where ever possible), other standards like the session initiation protocol (SIP) are supported in various spots throughout Microsoft's portfolio of software, thereby offering the ability to integrate with non-Microsoft solutions in some places. In addition, as has been the case with NetMeeting, there are ways for users on non-Microsoft technology to tie into Web conferences with nothing more than a Web browser.

I haven't had an opportunity to sit down and work extensively with the product. So, it's hard to really vet the pros and the cons at this point in the beta. That said, the product really looked like the culmination of a long term vision and that vision makes very good sense once you've see the implementation. As a side note, the images in the image gallery are mostly cropped versions of images that were furnished to us by Microsoft at my request. Since I don't have the software here and the beta is just now being released, asking Microsoft for a wide range of images that show what the product can do was the best alternative. Microsoft furnished no captions. All of the captions on those images were written by me on the basis of what I saw in the demonstration.

Here's the video: 

 

Topic: Microsoft

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28 comments
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  • Yada yada yada

    .... another fad eating millions of dollars, it will end up with 40 regular users, in 5 years nobody will remember it.




    OSX=iPod Vista=Zune
    Reverend MacFellow
    • I am sure...

      ... the Mac version is much more compelling....
      Confused by religion
    • You're confussed

      they weren't talking about OSX...
      John Zern
    • Doesn't matter for you

      Macs just don't get used for business. Or in fact by anyone except the sad 5% of the world that just has to make an expensive lifestyle choice.

      Just stick to the small stable of Mac apps and get back under the rock.
      TonyMcS
      • Tony, what are you doing?!

        This is against corporate policy stating that OS-X has more than 1% of any market. You are dangerously close to representing the true 7% market share OS-X has. Next thing you know, you will be conceding that 30M Linux desktops worldwide is > 0.01% of the market. It might be time for a refresher course on market conduct here at HQ?

        TripleII
        TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
  • ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz

    At this point I don't care if MSFT came up with the miracle productivity package of all time. It doesn't change what's fundamentally wrong with MSFT, their licensing, service or corporate execution. It doesn't fix their security or their attitude toward security.

    It's too little, too late. They've always had some good products but not any that makes all the overhead of running a MSFT shop worthwhile.

    And that includes Office Communications suite.
    Chad_z
    • So why did you bother to read and post...

      ... if you would never even consider using Microsoft at your company? Just move along to slashdot.org for your daily dose of non-proprietary commentary and let those who have an open mind comment on a new product that some may find interesting.
      Confused by religion
      • Open Mind!!! HAH!!!

        5/10... Nice try but you're no Mike Cox :-)

        Judging by the number of flaming NBM regulars posting and their hostile attacks and replies, I'd say your "open mind" comment is specious and disingenuous.

        Chad_z stated why he doesn't like MS (heaven forbid someone has a different opinion or choice)... [b]"It doesn't change what's fundamentally wrong with MSFT, their licensing, service or corporate execution. It doesn't fix their security or their attitude toward security."[/b]

        Despite the accuracy of these well-founded reasons, care to refute what he said or is it easier to just bash? (rhetorical question)

        Waiting for xuniL_z to rely (just can't help himself, zealot that he is).

        ...
        MacCanuck
        • Ok, MacCanuck

          When you talk about MS security and then start talking about it in terms of Vista, office2007 and now the new Office Communications Server beta.....give me what you got that shows these systems to have poor security. I'd be very interested in reading what you got, cause from what I'm seeing there is very little in the way of security issues thus far, with 20 million licenses sold, office 2007 selling well etc. <br>
          You claim she posted just because she didn't agree. I am willing to side with her and bet everything that "chad" has no idea how secure Office Communications Server will be after release. <br>
          It's this kind of applying win95 security to MS 12 years later that is what's specious and disengenuous, in my humble opinion.
          xuniL_z
        • As a user of several platforms...

          ... yes, I consider myself open-minded. I use a Mac, Linux (Ubuntu, although it is starting to p*ss me off - may try SUSE again), and Windows, I think I am more qualified to label myself as open-minded. How about you?

          Or are you a one trick pony?
          Confused by religion
        • Replies...

          Milly...

          Apologies if you do indeed have an open mind. But why the slam because he voices why he wouldn't choose MS? His list of complaints re MS are legitimate. Many get slammed for simply stating they choose something other than Windows (thus the "Judging by the number of flaming NBM regulars posting and their hostile attacks and replies, I'd say your "open mind" comment is specious and disingenuous.") You seem to be a minority.

          Yes I'm basically "a one-trick pony" BY CHOICE as the Mac does all I need to do with minimal fuss and headache (and I don't require a techies certificate or degree). I do have an XP box for testing but I'm 95% Mac. MS tactics and suspect quality history has helped ensure that.

          xuniL_Z...

          I knew you couldn't resist.

          As per the reports touting Vista being better than other OSes, the jury is still out as it's still too new, "obscure" and untested. Since the argument against OS X security is it's small market share, let's wait until Vista gains a bigger hold in the market to judge it fairly.

          Chad listed MS's history as the reasons why he wouldn't buy into it, much as almost anyone does when making a purchase decision (was my last Chevy/Sony/Nike/etc a dog or worth considering again?) What's wrong with that?

          Given MS's track record, past promises and PR hype ("best/most secure Windows ever" at every launch yet problems persist), I wouldn't bet your retirement savings on it quite yet.

          And I also wouldn't throw that 20 million Vista license figure around either as it's highly suspect...

          http://www.microsoft-watch.com/content/vista/stacking_vista_licenses_too_high.html

          ...

          ....
          MacCanuck
    • you got it bro'

      in fact I think even gui is overrated. with character based systems you get so much more use of your network and you can stay on 10Mb and 1995 clients forever. These kinds of products that provide cool technology with full unification are just so lame. Give me an old 486 with 32 MB of ram and 100MB harddrive and I'm good to go. <br>
      I think it's so cool many linux distros will run on 512MB or ram too if you do gui. Of course that's with no array of apps loaded, but applications are also overrated.
      xuniL_z
      • Yeah good luck in your business

        I am going to be really impressed by a business running lame Eunuchs apps on a 486.

        But hey you get to run benchmarks and download distros - they'll be real useful for business.
        TonyMcS
      • So you are still using an abacas?

        How's that working out for ya?
        No_Ax_to_Grind
        • Not quite, but I did

          once load a full version of Linux on a 1981 TI calculator and it ran better than Vista ever could dream of....who needs Vista.
          xuniL_z
        • Microsoft lies about Vista sales figures

          Their numbers don't add up.

          http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,2108207,00.asp

          Maybe you think PC Magazine are all ABMers, too. lol.

          You guys are hilarious.
          Chad_z
  • The ABMers are here

    Really most of these people wouldn't understand business collaboration if it hit them on the head repeatedly.

    The best web solution I ever bought (yup that's actually PAYING money for software) was MS Small Business Server. Now all my documents, resources and email are available at work and at home and anywhere I happen to be. The documents are easily shared and all the MS apps function beautifully and professionally.

    Of course I could have put this together with open source, baling wire, chewing gum and gaffer tape. But then I would have had an unprofessional mess that would crash the first time I applied an update to any of the open source apps.

    Office Communications looks like just what I need. What a surprise coming from a company that has led the world in Office apps and has over 20 years experience - I mean how can this happen? Surely a bunch of eunuchs fanatics slapping together some open source could do better? Surely a committee of pure souls could come up with standards out of the ether?

    The standards are set by the people who actually do it - not the people who dream about it.
    TonyMcS
    • Do you feel more superior now?

      Geeesh, what an adolescent rant.

      Do you feel more superior now that you've derided others? I would hate to do business with you if this is your attitude.

      It is neither necessary or civil to denigrate others choices in computing. And that applies to everyone.
      mosborne
  • But how could it be any good!

    They actualy make money from it, loads of profit. How could you write software and do that!!!

    Evil doers
    mrjonno
  • check the competition David

    I think David should try out the competition before drooling so much over Microsoft's beta.... Seen Lotus Notes 8 Beta yet? Its free for download you know...

    Like existing versions of Notes (from 6.5 onwards) it has im, buddy-lists, presence-awareness, etc, etc, etc.. oh and its got OpenOffice built-in ('productivity editors' in IBM-speak).
    IBM also offers a Unified Comms solution based on Notes/Domino too, allowing voicemail, etc, etc.

    Did I mention the Notes client comes for Windoze, Apple Mac, and Linux, while the Domino server runs on Windoze, Linux, Aix, HP-UX, etc, etc.

    Finally compare the prices...
    sj_z