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Microsoft to Showcase Business Technology

Microsoft throws off the shroud on its unified communication strategy.

(Seattle) Microsoft's best-known business software is for creating spreadsheets, documents and presentations, but the company is hoping to convince corporations that it also can be the one-stop shop for sophisticated communications technology.

At an event Monday in San Francisco, it plans to showcase a slew of planned products designed to more closely link virtually all workers' communications, from e-mail and instant messaging to videoconferencing and even traditional telephone calls.

The idea is that a worker could, for example, receive an e-mail and, instead of responding in print, easily set up a conference call with all the recipients. Those people might even see the e-mail header on their phones, much like you see caller ID today.

When strung together, the so-called Unified Communications products also are designed to help employees immediately get in contact, whether the person they want to reach is sitting at a computer, driving home or on a business trip.

Microsoft has been working on early iterations of such technology for the past several years, and some, such as Live Communications Server 2005, are already on the market. The new products and updates are due to be out by mid-2007.

Microsoft's new software relies on technologies such as broadband Internet access and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). The Redmond company also is partnering with companies including cell phone maker Motorola Inc. to provide the hardware for the offerings.

Currently, many businesses rely on separate companies for things like traditional phone calls and voice mail, e-mail and instant messaging.

One challenge for Microsoft and other companies seeking to bundle such capabilities is that some of those services, such as instant messaging, are available for free.

But Zig Serafin, general manager for Unified Communications at Microsoft, said the software maker is hearing from more companies concerned about the security and reliability of free downloads.

Although he conceded that it could be several years before companies start using some of these advanced technologies, Microsoft's goal is to demonstrate that such technologies can evolve into one linked offering, rather than several separate ones.

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