Microsoft is getting serious about phones. Bill Gates today announced Microsoft's new unified communications products. And in another set of announcements, Microsoft rolled out updates for its Live suite of services, including enhanced support for mobile applications, GPS, and voice-driven search.Here is a look at Microsoft's unified communications news:
Bill Gates and Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division introduced several products that fit into the strategy including Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft Live Meeting, a service pack update to Microsoft Exchange, and Microsoft RoundTable, which is a $3,000 conferencing phone with a 360-degree camera. The products will directly compete with voice, video, and data systems from other IP telephony providers such as Cisco Systems and Avaya.
Gates said Microsoft's efforts to connect video, voice, data through an Active Directory system were similar to the transformation of computing from mainframes to PCs and even the way that consumers interact with PCs.
Microsoft has been trying to leverage its market share with Exchange to capture more of the IP telephony market space for a while. The move puts Redmond in direct competition with several long-time telecom and network providers, including Cisco, Siemens, and Avaya.
On the consumer side of the telecom, Microsoft announced some mobile additions to its online Live services. Here is a look at the live news:
Microsoft also improved its mobile services, most specifically with Live Search for Windows Mobile with Voice Input, a beta feature. The updated Live Search for Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0 now includes voice input gas prices, and hours of operation for businesses. A related improvement to its TellMe service (800-CALL-411) also integrates the live Search capability into TellMe.
Microsoft also announced Live Search for BlackBerry, designed for use with phones running BlackBerry OS version 4.0.2 or later.
Both the BlackBerry and Windows Live search functions take advantage of GPS positioning, if installed and active.
If we take these announcements together, we see Microsoft focusing on telecom from both the enterprise side with unified communications and on mobility from the consumer and prosumer side, with new Web-based mobile applications for smartphones.
Microsoft clearly sees its future in Web-based telecommunications services -- both Microsoft Office Communications Server and the mobile Live applications promise a future of mobility from any device on any network. This competitive landscape, however, is brutal. On the enterprise side, Microsoft is going to have to tackle Cisco Systems, a company that is betting extra hard on the future of IP voice (and has the resources to put one heck of a fight).
And on the mobile front Microsoft is clearly using Live to copy Google's and Yahoo's existing strategies with mobile applications -- i.e. get as many mobile outs out there as possible that are both easy-to-use and work on lots of devices.
Microsoft is pretty late to both of these parties. If it has any advantages, it's Microsoft's installed user base with Windows and Exchange in both the enterprise and consumer desktop markets. This may give the guys in Redmond some advantage with the telephony market, but on the mobile front it's not that big a deal. Microsoft claims a global install base on Windows Mobile of roughly 20 million. While that's nothing to sneeze it, it's microscopic compared to the scale of rivals like Nokia. On top of that, Microsoft Live lacks the cache of Google, making the company's move with more mobile applications even more challenging.
I don't know why Microsoft isn't trying to bundle these applications together -- business telephony and business mobility in one seamless platform. If Microsoft has one advantage over its rivals in both of these sectors, it's the software giant's reach across devices and platforms. By combining these offerings, Microsoft might be able to offer a solution that rivals like Cisco, Google, or Research in Motion could ever dream of.
What do you think? Will Microsoft make any headway with these new initiatives? Or will they rot on the vine?