Today I attended the first day of UC Expo, a show devoted to unified communications, at Olympia in London. It was mostly a quiet event — no big keynotes, just seminars that were mostly straight product pitches from the vendors concerned. None of these companies drew a serious crowd... except for Microsoft.
Redmond's finest were demonstrating a beta of Office Communicator 2010, or 'Wave 14' as it is also known. Sadly I didn't make it into the demo, as it was completely packed out. Standing outside the theatre, I could see some screenshots, but I couldn't hear anything and moved along accordingly.
What was the big draw? Well, Office Communicator 2010 and Office Communication Server (OCS) 2010 take the PBX out of the equation — this is fully software-powered telephony, with emergency services support, failover to the standard PSTN network if that should prove necessary, and all sorts of enterprise-class features. OCS does a bit of voice now, but the new version, due in Q4, appears to be Microsoft taking on the UC market at full tilt.
And, by the looks of it, they're in with a chance. Two main reasons spring to mind. Firstly, Microsoft already has an undeniable majority stake in the enterprise desktop, and can easily punt OCS as an extension to Outlook et al. Secondly, the non-MS UC industry hasn't done such a hot job of taking the technology mainstream — partly through lack of interoperability, and partly through a desperate inability to explain what UC is for.
I'm still a bit fuzzy on that raison d'