Microsoft to Muscle Deeper Into VOIP?

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Microsoft is expected to play up Live Communications Server 2005, due out this month, as a key piece of its quest to conquer the telephony market.
While Microsoft's Live Communications Server (LCS) is first and foremost an enterprise instant-messaging server, Microsoft is expected to position its 2005 version as its entrée into the telephony market.
LCS 2005, code-named "Vienna," went to beta this summer. Microsoft announced it had delivered to testers the near-final "release candidate" beta in mid-September. Microsoft is expected to launch the final release later this month.

Microsoft officials have described LCS 2005 as "a next-generation enterprise instant messaging (IM) and presence-awareness server."

But Microsoft also will use LCS 2005 as a way to gain a toehold in the voice-over-IP (VOIP) space, according to sources claiming familiarity with the company's plans.

"Microsoft's end game is to become a telephony provider and give Vonage, Verizon, etc., a run for their money," said one source close to the company, who requested anonymity. "They are going SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) in a big way. And because SIP is multi-media capable (start with voice, switch to video, conferencing, etc. in mid stream), it's a nice protocol for them."

With LCS 2005, Microsoft is thinking about "collaboration" in the broadest sense of the term. Whether it's voice, instant messaging or Web conferencing: LCS 2005 will be the centerpiece, in Microsoft's worldview. And earlier this year, Microsoft officials said to expect LCS 2005 to allow IM clients from not just Microsoft, but also AOL and Yahoo, to interoperate.

Microsoft's current LCS 2003 release (code-named "Greenwich") relies on Windows Messenger, an enterprise-ready variant of Microsoft's MSN Messenger IM client, as the front-end of choice.

But with LCS 2005, Microsoft also is working on a new client, code-named "Istanbul," according to sources. Istanbul will be more of a full-fledged communications client, which will allow users to switch seamlessly between text and voice, sources said.

A number of different Microsoft business units, ranging from windows client, to the mobile and embedded division, have been working on various pieces of the company's private/public carrier communications strategy. Different units have discussed both publicly and privately Microsoft's intentions to play in the VOIP; multicast-multimedia IP conferencing; automatic call-center client and server application; PBX software; interactive voice response and other real-time collaboration arenas.

Microsoft and partner Hewlett-Packard have shown prototypes of a communications PCs. But there's also talk that Microsoft may be working on some kind of Microsoft-branded phone that could plug into a USB port. Such a device could debut in the next six months to a year, sources claim.

Microsoft officials declined to comment on the company's LCS 2005 launch plans. While Microsoft is one of the primary sponsors of the VON telephony show in mid-October in Boston — and Anoop Gupta, Microsoft's real-time collaboration chief, is one of the lead-off keynoters — a Microsoft spokesman said the company will not launch the product at VON. He declined to offer a launch date for LCS 2005.

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