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Microsoft Creates Unified Communications Group

Microsoft announced this week that it is merging its Exchange Server group with its Real-Time Collaboration (RTC) group, as it begins to think of the two technologies comprising a "platform." The new group will be termed the Unified Communications Group (UCG) will reside in Microsoft's Business Division and will be headed by Anoop Gupta, who is currently corporate vice president of the RTC group.

The idea for the new group emanates from a vision of adding continuity to a myriad of communications devices, technologies and modes -- from e-mail and instant messaging to VoIP, audio/video and Web conferencing -- in a unified manner.

"Customers have told us about the pain and loss of productivity they experience every day due to [the] multitude of silo'ed communications tools," Gupta said in a statement. "The new UCG will drive the delivery of an integrated business communications portfolio that spans e-mail, calendaring, voice mail, instant messaging, audio/video/Web conferencing and integrated Voice over Internet Protocol solutions for customers."

For instance, today a knowledge worker might call a co-worker at his or her office phone and leave an urgent message. Since the message is important, the worker then calls the co-worker's mobile phone and leaves a second message, and then a follow-up e-mail or instant message.

Because the various technologies are not integrated among themselves -- or only some are -- the technologies themselves can become part of the problem. However, if they were all integrated, only one message would need to be left or sent. At least, that's the idea.

The merger is another step towards fulfilling chief software architect Bill Gates' and chief technical officer Ray Ozzie's vision of a "new world of work." Gates outlined Microsoft's ideas on that topic in the keynote at his annual CIO Summit last May.

Gates said that broad trends in the next generation of the information worker experience will include unified communications, increased presence information, optimized supply chains, better team collaboration, quicker pinpointing of the "right" information, spotting trends for business intelligence and better access to structured data.

"The formation of the UCG further represents Microsoft's commitment to rapidly deliver on this vision for our business customers and for our partner ecosystem," Gupta's statement said.

However, that is not to say it's time to sunset solutions like Exchange Server or Live Communications Server. Those will continue to be available as separate products.

Neither will it impact current shipping schedules. The next major release of Exchange entered a limited beta in mid-December and is still set to ship in late 2006 or early 2007, the company said.

Additionally, Speech Server 2007, the next release of Microsoft's interactive voice response platform, is planned to reach the street in the latter part of 2006. Finally, Gupta said, the next generation of RTC products continue to be targeted for release as part of Office "12" -- due during the second half.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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