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Microsoft, Partners Ready to Unify Messaging

Microsoft Corp. has been more than hinting at its strategies for unified messaging for knowledge workers in the past couple of months, striking fear into the hearts of business intelligence vendors everywhere.

Today the company is releasing specific details about that strategy and the tools enterprises will need to use it. The solution that Microsoft has in mind utilizes Windows NT/2000 operating systems, Exchange Server and Windows CE to provide knowledge workers with "any-time, anywhere access via any phone or other device to a single box containing e-mail, voicemail, fax and page messages."

The company is partnering with Lucent Technologies Inc., Nortel Networks Corp. and Active Voice Corp. (www.activevoice.com), a computer telephony integrator, to provide the backbone for this infrastructure.

"Customers want access to all types of business-critical communications any time, anywhere," says Steve Ballmer, president of Microsoft Corp. "Today we're outlining a Microsoft vision for unifying the voice and data worlds to make knowledge workers more productive and enable companies to innovate more quickly and compete more effectively."

Lucent will be developing its Unified Messenger, which saves voice mails in the same box as e-mail, faxes and other documents, on top of Microsoft Exchange Server. Nortel will be extending CallPilot, a similar product to Unified Messenger, to the Exchange platform. Finally, Active Voice will be rebuilding Unity, it's Windows NT-based communications server, to take full advantage of Exhchange.

This will all become part of the next release of Exchange Server, code-named Platinum and presently in the Beta 2 phase. Gordon Mangione, product unit manager for Microsoft Exchange, detailed many of the new features and aspects of the architecture during a technical session at the Microsoft TechEd user conference last month.

Platinum includes URL addressability for all hierarchies, folders, messages and attachments. "We’re basically making all of the data in an Exchange server Web-readable," Mangione said.

Integration of that feature with Office 2000 should allow Web access to mailboxes. The products will be capable of determining the type of browser in use, and those with support for XML should have a Web experience of Outlook that is nearly identical to an Outlook client, Mangione said.

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has also highlighted his vision for knowledge management which he tagged the "digital dashboard" at a CEO summit last month. Gates says instead of creating a new infrastructure, solutions should be designed to lay over and relate to the existing one.

Gates also went on to discuss the advances in wireless technology and how it will allow all types of data, including e-mail, voice messages, news and Web sites to be accessed from any device in a format that's easily understood by the user. Using the Windows CE platform, Gates says the Redmond campus will adopt wireless devices to make their jobs easier.

Microsoft senior vice president Bob Muglia outlined four initiatives of the knowledge management plan at his TechEd keynote last month: digital dashboards, Web Store technology, mobile and wireless solutions and intelligent interfaces. -- Brian Ploskina

About the Author

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

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