Gates Launches Office Communicator '05 Client, Live Communications Server '05 Update

Formerly code-named Istanbul, Office Communicator 2005--expected to be released into manufacturing by midyear--integrates instant-messaging, voice, video and telephony support and access to the LCS 2005 Web conferencing server. The client is tightly integrated with Office 2003 Outlook and SharePoint and offers "rich presence" features that allow users, for instance, to offer additional availability data to co-workers, such as next-available meeting times and out-of-office information. It also offers PC-to-phone integration, Microsoft said.

The client won't be available until next quarter, and pricing and licensing information weren't disclosed. Microsoft said the client would be multi-platform and that pricing would be announced before the client ships.

Also on Tuesday, Microsoft launched a significant service pack for LCS 2005, which is due for wide availability in April. The LCS 2005 update offers enhanced federation between realtime communications servers at different locations to better enable company-to-company interaction and "spim" filters to reduce spam over instant messaging. The service pack also offers connectivity to AOL, Yahoo and MSN instant-messaging networks. The Public IM Connectivity (PIC) functionality will be offered as a separately licensed, per-user, per-year subscription beginning April 1. The LCS 2005 platform was officially launched late last year.

Microsoft also launched the third product of its enhanced, realtime communications (RTC) platform, Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2005. The enhanced LiveMeeting hosted service offers broad integration with Office so users can launch a Web conference with co-workers from within Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, Project and the new Office Communicator 2005 client. Office Live Meeting 2005 is scheduled to be available to customers on March 11.

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Microsoft launched the three products over a live conference and Web conference from five cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and London. The event was conducted over the enhanced Office Live Meeting 2005 service.

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said the long-awaited convergence of communications and collaboration services is enabled by the Office Communicator 2005 client, a simplified user interface that lets users naturally and seamlessly switch between e-mail, IM, voice, video, Web work spaces and Web conferencing services from within Office, which has more than 250 million users worldwide. The software is optimized for Office 2003 but has limited use on Office XP.

Gates said the ability to use these services from within their day-to-day Word and Excel applications and from their business-intelligence and workflow applications will improve productivity and reduce the "miscoordination" that hinders corporate communication and productivity.

"We created a user interface that's easy to navigate. We take identity and presence and put that in the center," Gates said from a live launch in San Francisco.

Gates said the key innovation is in the user interface and integration with Office applications and that, over the long term, Microsoft intends to integrate Communicator more deeply with the Office interface. "We had to simplify the user interface so people feel comfortable working across these boundaries. Some people are more e-mail-centric, and some are more IM-centric," he said.

Microsoft executives emphasized that Live Meeting 2005 is tightly integrated with Office and Communicator 2005, but Communicator 2005 is the official client for LCS 2005.

Consumers should continue using MSN Messenger for instant messaging, but information workers will use Communicator 2005 as their key IM tool from within Office, according to Microsoft executives. Solution providers can add value for their Office customers by deploying Communicator 2005, the LCS 2005 service pack and Live Meeting 2005.

Gates said the enhanced Live Meeting will allow users to conduct collaborative online meetings, training and hosted events, resulting in more effective meetings, higher productivity, reduced travel expenses, a competitive advantage and improved return on investment. It also will bring together all of the separate "silos" of data with collaboration and communication, he added.

"It's one of the areas Office will be revolutionary in," Gates said. "It's a new world of work, evolving Office way beyond what people thought it was traditionally--for single workers."

Solution providers said the combination of the Istanbul client with the LCS 2005 upgrade's new federation capabilities, multipoint conferencing and integrated client gives them significant selling opportunities to a big installed base.

"The LCS release offers a federated solution, so we can now implement across enterprises. Lots of companies held off with [LCS] 2003 because it would not allow for that," said Ken Winell, managing executive at Vis.align, which recently purchased Econium. "Leveraging regulatory things such as Sarbanes-Oxley makes LCS a compelling solution for companies and a way to retain company information. Coupled with Sharepoint/Office 2003, it extends presence and makes a better user experience."

Live Meeting integrates with all of the primary Office applications (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Visio, Project and Outlook) as well as with MSN Messenger, Windows Messenger and Office Communicator. The Office Communicator 2005 client, LCS 2005 update and Office Live Meeting 2005 also offer the communication tracking and audit features necessary to enable compliance with regulatory mandates such as Sarbanes-Oxley, Microsoft executives said.