Microsoft On Track With Realtime Collaboration Road Map

The company plans to launch and ship Live Meeting 2005, Istanbul, the next client, and the connectivity pack for Live Communications Server (LCS) 2005 in the next six months, said Dustin Grosse, general manager of sales and marketing for the realtime collaboration group.

The next Live Meeting iteration of hosted conferencing software will be the first to be completely built on Microsoft technology, Grosse said. Microsoft purchased PlaceWare and its Live Meeting franchise in spring 2003. (The last Live Meeting version added a native Windows client. Live Meeting itself had its roots in Unix and Java infrastructure.)

The current LCS 2005, which targets on-premises use, along with the current client have been criticized by some partners for their inability to host multiparty whiteboarding, screen sharing, video or voice sessions. "You can't host an internal Powerpoint presentation to 20 people on LCS the way you can with [Lotus] Sametime," said one solution provider who specializes in collaboration.

Grosse said Microsoft shops that want such multi-party functions can tap into the NetMeeting capabilities embedded in Windows XP. The new Istanbul client, aka the next Microsoft Instant Messenger, will seamlessly interoperate with NetMeeting or LCS back ends, Grosse said.

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As reported, Istanbul will incorporate integrated instant messaging, VoIP, and data conferencing and video support.

The upcoming LCS connectivity pack promises to tie Microsoft instant messaging users with LCS back ends into the huge installed base of America Online and Yahoo instant messaging users. There will be an additional charge for the pack, but Microsoft is not disclosing it.

Interestingly, IBM Software's Lotus group, which pioneered easy interop between its Sametime instant messaging and AOL Instant Messenger, let that agreement lapse, according to sources at both companies. Microsoft, with its bridge to the public instant messaging networks, may have engineered a coup, observers said.

Grosse reiterated Microsoft's plan to converge the back-end functionality of the hosted Live Meeting and LCS over time. Some of that convergence should show up in the post-LCS 2005 release, code-named Kiev, he confirmed.

Microsoft and IBM Lotus are in a race to embrace presence awareness within applications. At Lotusphere 2005 this week, IBM showed off a nascent Activity Explorer that melds presence with a user's current applications. It will be part of a soon-to-ship Workplace Collaboration Services 2.5 release.

Grosse said the current combination of LCS 2005 and Office 2003 already "lights up" desktop applications with presence.