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Office Communicator Released to Manufacturing

Microsoft on Wednesday released to manufacturing its Microsoft Office Communicator 2005, the real-time communications client formerly known by the code-name "Istanbul."

Communicator is a client similar to Windows Messenger for instant messaging, but it also offers the enterprise user richer presence information, integrated telephony, VoIP, conferencing and unified communications. It was developed as the preferred client for Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005, which shipped in December.

The tight integration of Communicator with Live Communications Server, which Microsoft equates to the tight coupling between Exchange and Outlook, translates to user benefits in several areas, according to Microsoft. The pairing allows for enhanced controls for "spim," which is spam over IM; enterprise-grade connectivity to the major public IM networks of MSN, AOL and Yahoo!; and presence information integration into Microsoft Office System applications.

Where Communicator and LCS may hold the most promise is in tying the computer to the phone for unified communication. Microsoft has offered call-placing software in Windows for years, but its use has been minimal. This time around, Microsoft has created programming hooks and evangelized the connectivity to PBX vendors.

"We've built an ecosystem of partners so that Communicator can connect with different PBX systems worldwide. We've had the vision for creating this application for several years, but it was only about 18 months ago that we built a team to make this dream a reality," Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the Live Communications Team in the Microsoft Real-Time Collaboration Group, said in a Q&A posted on the Microsoft site.

Assuming the PC-phone connection takes off this time, Microsoft has plans to make the functionality more compelling in later editions. "In areas such as call routing, for example, there is no reason why Communicator can't serve the function of an administrative assistant," Pall said. "Why can't software route communications and provide information about who is trying to reach you or communicate to others when you don't want to be disturbed? We call this virtual assistant an 'info agent,' and it's an active area of research within Microsoft Research."

Licensing of Communicator will come in two forms. Live Communications Server 2005 Client Access Licenses will cover Communicator usage for IM, presence and 1:1 audio and video. A Live Communications Server 2005 Telephony CAL will be required to use the telephony functionality, including PBX integration for remote call control and PSTN audio conferencing.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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