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Microsoft RTMs New Phone System

Response Point is one of Microsoft's few hardware products, and is available only through OEMs

Wouldn't it be nice to pick up the phone on your desk and, without dialing any numbers, say "Joe in accounting," and have your phone not only dial Joe, but bring up the information you have stored for him in Outlook?

That's the idea behind Response Point, Microsoft's answer to the antiquated phone systems that populate the offices of small businesses everywhere.

Redmond announced today that Response Point has been released to manufacturing, and by the end of the year systems will "definitely be available" for purchase, according to Jeff Smith, a senior product manager for Response Point.

Response Point is one of Microsoft's few hardware products, and is available only through OEMs. Thus far, Microsoft has three companies producing Response Point systems: D-Link Corp., Quanta Computer Inc., and Aastra Technologies. Since the OEMs are responsible for producing the systems, Microsoft couldn't give a commercial availability date.

Response Point is the latest entry into the voice over IP (VoIP) market, and Microsoft's proprietary technology powers the system, which includes a base unit with built-in analog telephone adapter (ATA), secure gateway and phones. Response Point fills an urgent need in the small business space, according to Smith.

"We found in the small business environment that two-thirds of all U.S. small businesses don't have a phone system installed at all," Smith said. They generally have a "cobbled together" mishmash of various off-the-shelf products that don't work together well.

That leads to frustration, Smith said. "We saw that the user experience was broken." Even simple tasks, like transferring a call, can leave users shaking their heads. Large enterprises normally have a dedicated phone expert on staff, but small businesses, of course, usually can't afford such a luxury.

Enter Response Point, which, Smith claimed, is "radically easier to manage, use and grow than anything else out there." One of the reasons is the voice recognition technology, which Smith said is "fantastically accurate."

Response Point doesn't require any interaction with other Microsoft servers, as it's a standalone product. However, it can work with Outlook to make the experience more seamless.

Front-line tech support for the system will be provided by the channel partners who will be selling them, backed up by the OEMs. The sales channel will be a critical part of the success of Response Point, and represents a great opportunity for partners, Smith said.

"We've gotten tremendous feedback from Microsoft channel partners" about Response Point, Smith said. "Partners tell us that the opportunity to sell phone systems is a fantastic opportunity." To that end, Microsoft has just kicked off a 17-city training tour for resellers.

Response Point is geared toward businesses with between 1-50 employees, Smith said. Systems will start at around $2,500 for a package that includes four phones, but pricing will ultimately be decided by the OEMs. Redmond is offering Microsoft Financing, allowing businesses to pay for the service monthly rather than all up front.

That represents another opportunity for channel partners, who will get a percentage of the sale for each Microsoft Financing program they set up.

Customers can begin to pre-order the first available system, called Quanta Syspine, starting Friday, Oct. 5. More information is available at the Response Point homepage.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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