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Microsoft shows off its next version of Office Communications Server

Microsoft is offering its first public glimpse of Office Communications Server 14, its all-in-one instant messaging/VOIP/conferencing product at the VoiceCon show in Orlando on March 24.

Microsoft is offering its first public glimpse of Office Communications Server 14, its all-in-one instant messaging/VOIP/conferencing product at the VoiceCon show in Orlando on March 24.

Office Communications Server 14 -- which I've heard will be called Office Communications Server 2010 when it ships in the latter part of this year -- is going to be tightly integrated with SharePoint Server 2010 and Exchange Server 2010, as I've reported previously. Microsoft officials reconfirmed today that OCS 14 is going to ship before the end of this year.

From some of the new screen shots supplied by Microsoft of OCS 14, it looks like social-networking is going to become more pervasive in Office Communicator, the client component of the product. Microsoft is adding location auto-detection, activity feeds, and integrated skill-search functionality to the next release of OCS.

Microsoft officials are sharing information only on the voice features of OCS 14 today, a company spokesperson said. The Redmondians also aren't talking today about when and whether there will be a public beta of OCS 14. At the Professional Developers Conference late last year, officials said to expect a private Technology Adoption Partner (TAP) test of OCS 14 to begin in the second calendar quarter of this year. The codename for that TAP program is "Metro." A company spokesperson said the TAP program for OCS 14 kicked off "days ago."

Microsoft isn't releasing sales figures for OCS, but company officials claim OCS sales have grown by double digits every year for the last three years. Microsoft officials say that more than 70 percent of the Fortune 100 have OCS as well as 7 of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies, 8 of the top 10 aerospace companies, and 9 of the top 10 banks.

No word from the Softies as to what will be new in the cloud-side complement to OCS 14, the Office Communications Online service, which provides users with instant messaging, presence and peer-to-peer voice calling via the hosted OCS offering. Here's the official response from a company spokesperson when I asked:

"We update Microsoft Online Services with new capabilities every 90 days, and in the future, we will make additional functionality, including many of the capabilities in Communications Server ‘14’, available as part of Office Communications Online.  We will have more to share on this front in the coming weeks and months."

Microsoft officials are now predicting that unified communications will be the norm in business communications in three years. (I kind of feel like this is like "This is the year of IPTV" predictions; the date when a particular technology gains a foothold is usually several years -- or decades -- further away than those participating in a market anticipate.)

Any OCS users out there? What are you expecting/hoping makes it into the new version of OCS that wasn't part of OCS R2, which Microsoft released to manufacturing back in December 2008?