Extreme communication, Microsoft style

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

New York (NY) - You may be able to close the door to your office, but that won't save you from meetings and colleagues that are trying to get a hold of you, at least if Microsoft and Nortel have their way. The two firms today announced the first step towards their "unified communications" vision, which could allow corporations to create global cubical offices.

More than six months after Microsoft and Nortel came together to work on products for Microsoft "unified communications platform," the two companies today presented a first wave of actual products that will merge traditionally separate communication tools on the office desktop. On a journey that, according to Microsoft and Nortel, will lead to "transformed" communication - tools that will "unify" communications on the back-end of IT and communications infrastructure - the companies announced an intermediate step towards that goal: So called "integrated" technologies are merging communications on the client side, while not touching the back-end for now.

Today's demonstration focused almost exclusively on the integration of the functionality traditional (Nortel) PBX systems into Microsoft's Exchange Server 2007 software. Exchange 2007 will allow users not only to communicate via email, but instantly determine the availability ("presence") of a conversation partner - and continue the conversation via instant messaging or a phone call. Meetings and conference calls can be created via mouse-click within seconds. Vice versa, the phone can connect to Exchange to, for example, control call forwarding or change meetings via an automated phone system.

The demonstration appeared to be rough on the edges, especially dealing with an automated phone system and voice recognition seemed to be very time consuming, but Microsoft clearly showed the path of its "Unified Communications" strategy. With all tools in place, at least theoretically, employees could be reachable anytime, anywhere. In the words of a Microsoft representative, "not only will email follow you around, but phone calls and instant messaging as well."

Conceivably, Microsoft's and Nortel's technologies could fuel the continuing trend of tele-working and create one global office: The importance location of many employees becomes almost irrelevant and may be superseded by the requirement that employees are "available" or "present".

Microsoft believes that "integrated" communications technologies will be moving into corporations between 2007 and 2009. Starting in 2010, "transformed" communications with "full software solutions" and "advanced telecommunications" will begin to surface, the company predicts.