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'People Ready' to Drive Microsoft's Growth

NEW YORK -- Twenty years after Microsoft went public, the world's largest software company is sounding a new drumbeat about products in the pipeline that will fuel its next phase of growth.

That roadmap is part of a splashy $500 million advertising campaign that kicked off today, including an insert in major papers such as the Wall Street Journal.

One area in its product mix, said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, is its unified communications services.

"That area alone has huge growth, first amongst business customers and perhaps down the road with consumers," Ballmer said during a press briefing here. Ballmer also mentioned how excited he is about the growth prospects with Windows and Office Live, the hosted versions of its bread and butter software.

During a keynote address to the New York Executive Council, a business advocacy group, Ballmer, other Microsoft executives and key customers showed how the upcoming products -- the Office 2007 system, Windows Mobile software and its upcoming Exchange Server releases (for example) -- worked together in a unified messaging and collaboration environment.

It is built around a tagline of "People-Ready" software. And it's a "natural extension of our founding vision of empowering people through software," Ballmer said during his keynote.

"Today we take this to the next level by showing how these tools now work together in new ways to enhance innovation and drive greater value for business.

"Fueling our vision is a series of software solutions resulting from a $20 billion R&D investment over the past three years that is producing new innovation in a range of categories. From business intelligence to the mobile workforce, from collaboration to communications, and from CRM to enterprise search, the opportunity for software to deliver even greater customer value is limitless."

The ad campaign is all about reminding the world that people use the tools, and how that software morphs, grows and adapts to users' needs.

Ballmer also compared Microsoft's influence with that of another tech giant, IBM, which he said is increasingly becoming a services company that helps customers innovate. By contrast, he said Microsoft actually builds the tools that customers themselves use to innovate and drive their companies' success.

Ballmer said that in the coming year, Microsoft will apply its product portfolio and provide differentiated offerings to a much broader set of customer needs. They're already making their way into the marketplace.

Microsoft recently unveiled unified messaging features in its Office Communicator Mobile product at the 3GSM World Congress event in Barcelona.

It builds off the Office Communicator 2005 desktop client to provide integrated communications that weave together voice, presence with instant messaging and real-time collaboration within Outlook and other Office suite applications.

Integration is a keyword in the latest advertising blitz, which is expected to cost the company $500 million this year.

For example, the unified communications features rely on Microsoft's Live Communications Server (LCS) on the back end of a network in order to weave together the different communication protocols in one platform.

Microsoft also just rolled out more PC-to-PC voice capabilities that work with its MSN Messenger line. The release includes one-way PC-to-phone calling capabilities in several markets that are part of a pay-for-use service provided by Verizon, the company said.

Ballmer said he's excited about the growth prospects with its hosted versions of Windows Live, which joins Windows Live as part of Microsoft's foray into Web-based, hosted applications.

"We sit here 20 years later [after going public] and in some sense we're still feeding off this vision, this notion of empowerment of the user."

Updates prior version to clarify that time frame for the $500 million advertising spend



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