The State of Microsoft-Based Real-Time Collaboration

The February 3 announcement of the availability of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 (OCS) makes it timely to review the state of Microsoft real-time collaboration. To recap, OCS provides instant messaging, presence, interactive voice (1-1 and conferencing), Web conferencing, and desktop sharing. It delivers this through its Office Communicator 2007 rich client, which also has a Web browser version. OCS is almost always run in conjunction with Microsoft Exchange, because of the tight synergism with email, calendaring, and Active Directory.

OCS is still in the early days of what promises to be an exciting and distinguished future:

  • Many Exchange users haven’t installed OCS yet. Companies have traditionally deployed OCS if they have Exchange in-house and want corporate instant messaging.
  • Most OCS users start out with the instant messaging and presence elements, and by and large they still remain with just instant messaging and presence. New features in R2 include team calling, receptionist call management capabilities, and group chat (formerly Parlano) capabilities. Microsoft has created a YouTube channel focused on OCS 2007 R2 here.

OCS customers are now beginning to evaluate OCS as a replacement for their existing telephony services. This enables them to move away from expensive and esoteric PBXs and voicemail systems. Dedicated voice wiring also goes away, because the traffic goes over data links. It also means they can move away from expensive phone conferencing services.

Desktop phones need to be replaced with OCS-compatible ones, which can be costly. Their cost is likely to come down soon. Also, not every desk phone needs to be replaced, and in some cases a laptop serves as the desk phone. Frequently, the need to replace an obsolescent PBX or voicemail system — or to renew maintenance on such a system — acts as the catalyst for OCS-based VoIP services.

OCS users are also beginning to look at the replacement of their current Web conferencing services, such as Cisco WebEx. These have poor integration with Microsoft Outlook.

Microsoft’s telephony and Web conferencing offerings, delivered through OCS, are evolving nicely. Microsoft continues to develop them. Five years hence, they’ll be commonplace. It’s natural to deliver such services over VoIP, integrating them with rich directory-, presence-, and calendar-based repositories.

David Ferris and David Sengupta

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