The launch of Microsoft's Office Communications Server at the IP07 conference yesterday was surprisingly more interesting than you'd think. The actual product is basically glorified Outlook/Exchange – with some presence and teleconferencing ability – but a good case study by the Tayside Fire and Rescue service helped to illustrate the benefits. Chief Fire Officer Stephen Hunter, explained how the service is using the system, in combination with smartphones, as a replacement for pagers for part-time firemen. Now the firemen know what sort of fire they are going to tackle before they get to the station and can work out whether to risk life and limb getting there in a hurry.
Mark Deakin, Unified Communications product manager, Microsoft UK, also somehow managed to make the demo entertaining and avoid any major cock-ups. The speed and quality of the teleconferencing images wasn't very impressive – but Deakin claimed that was down the set-up for the show rather than inherent problems with the product (why set up a demo for journalists that doesn't show the product at its best?).
You can see an excerpt from the demo here – Deakin's reference to Kenny Everett's character Brother Lee Love and his big hands was sort of lost on the telecoms hacks –but I appreciated it (the 360 degree camera that the OCS sytem is designed for has some amusing side-effects)