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Microsoft a patent 'alley thug': Are those settling words?

I'm less interested in Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff calling Microsoft a troll and thug than I am in another tidbit from his earnings call transcript. Benioff is touting Salesforce's Chatter collaboration application Salesforce's "killer app." I'm thinking this space might be the real Microsoft-Salesforce battleground.

My ZDNet colleague Larry Dignan blogged about Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff's choice words for Microsoft from Salesforce's latest earnings call.

Dignan said he thinks Microsoft and Salesforce are on a path to settle the lawsuit Microsoft launched this week against Salesforce for patent infringement. If they are going to do so, I'm doubtful that Benioff calling Microsoft a "patent troll" and an "alley thug" are going to hasten matters....

(Microsoft's suit against Salesforce -- which seems like the culmination of months of warnings/threats by Microsoft -- is over nine broad-ranging patents that have nothing to do with open source. As I am not a patent expert, I have no idea about the validity of the claims and how they'll hold up in court if the CRM rivals end up taking the case that far.)

All that said, I'm less interested in Benioff's name calling than I am in another tidbit from his earnings call transcript. Benioff is touting Salesforce's Chatter collaboration application Salesforce's "killer app." Chatter is a Twitter-like tool that also enables the sharing of data sources and creation of automated status updates and feeds.

Microsoft launched in 2009 a somewhat similar offering -- the CRM Social Networking Accelerator for Twitter. It doesn't look like there have been many downloads of that tool from the Microsoft Codeplex site. I haven't heard Microsoft officials talk it up since the announcement.

But that doesn't mean the Softies are standing still in this space. During his keynote in front of 125 CEOs this week at Microsoft's annual CEO Summit, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer hinted that Microsoft has a few social-networking tools in the wings that the company is going to be touting heavily in the not-too-distant future.

Ballmer told his CEO audience:

"Conferencing, communication, collaboration, phenomenal improvements that you should expect this year. The way you broadcast, publish, communicate with your people, one of the remarkable things to me is all CEOs care a lot about communicating with their folks, and yet the infrastructure that we find in a lot of companies really doesn't make it easy. How would you have a webcast and talk real time to your people? How would they give you real-time feedback about what they're doing without overwhelming you? What is the equivalent of private Facebook, private Twitter, that really you kind of keep intramural, so to speak, in the company, phenomenal things coming this year."

Microsoft has been testing a "private Twitter" in the form of an OfficeLabs project called "OfficeTalk." Since its unveiling, there's been no update from the company as to how/when/if Microsoft plans to commercialize that technology.

Microsoft also launched an OfficeLabs preview of a "private Facebook" back in 2008 in the form of the TownSquare project. From what I can tell, that project has been discontinued.

Update (May 24): Yes, TownSquare is no more. From a Microsoft spokesperson: "TownSquare was a concept test and the learnings from it are in SharePoint 2010. There is no successor; it was never intended to live on after the learnings were gathered."

Windows Live profiles also were a (half-hearted) attempt by Microsoft to turn Windows Live into a Facebook-like space, but wasn't really ever intended for business use. Instead, Microsoft has been pushing the social-networking capabilities of SharePoint (especially the 2010 release) as the way it can deliver an enterprise-centric, Facebook-like experience.

Do you think the enterprise social-collaboration space is going to end up being more of a battleground for Microsoft and Salesforce than CRM is?