Microsoft's move last week to buy PlaceWare, a Web conferencing vendor, has observers closely watching the software giant's realtime collaboration technology strategy.
Microsoft has long touted realtime collaboration but last year shifted the foundation from Exchange Server to the upcoming Windows 2003 Server, due out later this year. PlaceWare's technology will become part of Microsoft's new Real Time Collaboration Group, headed by Anoop Gupta, a Microsoft Research veteran.
That group, in turn, will fall under the Productivity and Business Services Group, headed by Group Vice President Jeff Raikes. That group is responsible for Office and an array of desktop technologies. Windows 2003 Server and its planned realtime collaboration capabilities, code-named Greenwich, fall under the .Net Enterprise Servers Group, led by Senior Vice President Paul Flessner. In addition, Microsoft last year took a $51 million stake in Groove Networks, a collaboration pioneer.
Terms of the acquisition weren't disclosed. But some solution providers had questions about the deal and said they're waiting for a product road map from Microsoft. One solution provider wondered if Microsoft ran into intellectual property issues with something it was working on internally. Said another solution provider: "Gee, I wonder what that does to Groove and where the Greenwich technologies really are?"
However Microsoft's realtime collaboration game plan plays out, its acquisition of Mountain View, Calif.-based PlaceWare "underscores the importance of this realtime collaboration/instant messaging market," said David Via, vice president of business development at The Wolcott Group, a Fairlawn, Ohio-based solution provider.
Dan Leach, lead program manager at Microsoft, said PlaceWare's technology and service model are a good fit. "We think it will create incredible partner opportunities to build business solutions that take advantage of realtime collaborative capabilities," he said.
PlaceWare competes with WebEx Communications and Centra Software offerings, which enable groups to collaborate on documents and meet online.
PlaceWare's service already works well with Microsoft Office, according to Microsoft and PlaceWare.
Leach said PlaceWare will continue to work with non-Microsoft applications as well. Microsoft currently has no plans to incorporate PlaceWare collaborative capabilities into Office itself, he said.
PAULA ROONEY contributed to this story.