Microsoft Debuts Office Live Meeting 2007

After working on it "fast and furiously" for two years, according to Roger Murff, director of marketing for Microsoft's Unified Communications Services group, the company unveiled Office Live Meeting 2007 at its annual Tech-Ed conference last month (June 4-8 in Orlando, Fla.). Not expected to be available in finished form until sometime this fall, Murff sees the upcoming service as an important piece of the company's overall Unified Communications and collaboration strategies.

Several of the new capabilities have their origins from over the past 10 years of Microsoft's experience in Web conferencing along with feedback from corporate users. Some of those new enhancements include a more simplified user interface that helps users better focus on content and a number of training and event features that give presenters the ability to offer handouts, public training sessions and advanced testing and grading.

Murff sat down with Redmond Editor Ed Scannell to discuss the strategic ramifications of the service for its Unified Communications plans and how and why it will finally make Web conferencing a more pervasive reality among larger IT shops.

Redmond: What's the strategic importance of this version of Office Live Meeting?

Roger Murff, Director of Marketing, Unified Communications Services, Microsoft

Murff: This is an important part of our Unified Communications vision, which is to streamline communications. It delivers, we think, on some important investment areas for users such as a significantly redesigned user interface. But to me the most exciting part of this release is a new, integrated rich media experience. Basically, [what] we're pulling together in one environment is two kinds of audio, both phone and computer audio or voice, live webcam video using Microsoft Roundtable, where you'll have 360-degree live video and support for showing rich media file formats. Last but not the least [is that] it's built on the same technology platform as the Web conferencing available in Office Communications Server 2007.

Is this the sort of product or solution we can expect to see a part of Microsoft's "Software Plus Services" (SPS) initiative over the short term?

Yes, this is a nice, clean example of what that's all about. Right now, for instance, you and I are having a Web conference looking at a PowerPoint presentation, using the same client, and we don't necessarily know whether we're using Live Meeting or Live Communications Server 2007 on the back-end. What matters is we can both have a rich client experience and that technology is being served out to us in the way that makes sense to an IT organization.

During beta testing did you get any unexpected feedback from the larger IT shops?

Some of the more interesting feedback from larger customers is around the fact [that] there's not just one kind of meeting. There are ad hoc meetings that aren't scheduled where people sitting at their desks need to have a conversation and do it through Web conferencing. There's a scheduled meeting that's slightly more structured and we're actually going to share a PowerPoint and maybe use a common whiteboard to take notes from that meeting. Then at the high end there are formal training sessions that could scale up to thousands of users. We think we're covering a lot of that with this release.

Roger Murff, Director of Marketing, Unified Communications Services, MicrosoftWhat are the short-term prospects for Web conferencing being accepted more broadly among larger shops?

The competition for Web conferencing is really planes, trains and automobiles. The market for Web conferencing is growing at a terrific rate right now, but there are a lot of people out there still not using Web conferencing. But with this more streamlined client experience we're trying to deliver, I think the chances of getting them to participate in a Web conference without having to really think about it and just doing it is better. I see more information workers getting more into Web conferencing to improve their productivity. Also, you're obviously reducing corporate costs as well as making people more productive and effective.

How much of an opportunity do you see for this product in the online training markets?

I think we've addressed the concerns of the larger customers wanting more online training and for handling events. Things we're offering here are the public event registration page, advanced testing and grading and a really cool one around rich recordings. We've had support for recordings for a while now, but now we support all these different rich media types. So now you have the ability to record all those different media types and play them back. You can play them back in a more efficient manner, and you're able to search based on a specific slide or presenter or a specific time in the meeting.

Who do you see as your major competitors?

There are some major competitors out there but this is still a fast-growing market with lots of activity. The innovation the competition is driving us and others to will only better serve users. The bottom line is we will have more people using Web conferencing and that's what I most want to see.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.


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