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Microsoft, Polycom Team on Conferencing

Microsoft and Polycom have formed a multi-year joint venture that will add Polycom's conferencing functionality to Microsoft Office Live Meeting.

Polycom provides video, voice, data and Web conferencing and collaboration technology. Its WebOffice offering integrates the technologies and products needed to enable real-time communication and conferencing from the desktop, including presence detection to show which people on the buddy list are online, and device detection to show who is video-enabled.

The first fruit of the agreement will be products combining the presence awareness and IM capabilities of Microsoft Office Live Communications Server and Windows Messenger with Polycom's desktop and group video conference systems, IP handsets and conference phones, voice and video bridges and conference portal.

The goal is to increase the value of Windows Messenger by enabling multi-party conferencing, while adding device presence as well as personal presence -- and better video quality," Polycom vice president Dean Schoen said. "Today, what Polycom adds through the WebOffice conference portal is the ability for a device to be shown next to a buddy," Schoen said. "For example, I've got a VSX system associated with me. You could see whether that system was available or not. If you wanted to conference with me, you could just click on it."

IM users will be able to send invites that let colleagues instantly join the Web conference. Similarly, when users invite others to video conferences, the system can launch the video call by recognizing that users have a video system enabled and ready. The system can also work by accessing the video or voice-bridging resources needed and instantly send a dial-in number for voice, video or combined voice and video multipoint conferencing.

Bob Hagerty, Polycom's chairman and CEO, characterized the agreement as a way to ensure his company's products are compatible with the market-leading desktop environment. The two companies will co-develop and market the collaboration technologies through their own channels. They plan to make the first wave available late this year.

The joint product will support Session Initiation Protocol from infrastructure to the end-point. The SIP communication protocol will converge protocols and transports layers, merging previously disparate infrastructure elements including multimedia conferencing, telecommunications, Web services and wireless environments.

Because the Polycom video and voice bridges provide transcoding, participants can join using almost any network and be joined seamlessly in a conference with others who are on different types of network connections, such as Internet Protocol or ISDN .

The second wave of technology will lead to voice and video functionality for Microsoft Office Live Meeting. The goal is to let users launch high-quality voice, video and Web-conferencing calls from within any Windows application. For instance, if someone was reading an e-mail message and noticed that the sender was online, that person could initiate a videoconference call to follow-up with just a couple of clicks.

From Polycom WebOffice or Microsoft Office Live Meeting, the leader could click a button to add a voice conference call to the Web conference, a video call to the Web conference, or a combined voice and video call, enabling users to join using the method most convenient for them. On the back end, the system accesses the multipoint resources from the voice and video bridges and instantly generates a dial-in number with the capabilities requested by the user. Eventually, the two companies will enable mobile devices, as well.

"The intent is to reach the point where it's an application-centric approach, so that users can spend time in whatever their preferred application is," Schoen said. "I spend most of my day in Outlook. From Outlook, I could quickly and easily contact my buddies, know what kinds of devices are available, set up an ad hoc or scheduled meeting and communicate using whatever means are necessary without having to leave that application."