Microsoft Says LCS Is Going Mobile
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A little more than a month ago, Bill Gates defined Microsoft's vision for real-time, integrated communications and unveiled a roadmap for Live Communications Server (LCS) 2005 and its IM client Office Communicator 2005 (a.k.a Istanbul). Today, Microsoft described another plank for its ambitious real-time platform, announcing plans to deliver a new client for Windows Mobile-based devices.
While details are still sketchy, Ed Simnett, group product manager for LCS, said the mobile client will provide a consistent IM and presence-enabled application experience across PCs and handheld devices, and will provide integration between mobile applications and tools such as e-mail, phone, IM, SMS, video conferencing and Web conferencing across a variety of devices and wired or wireless networks. "This will allow enterprises to deploy one infrastructure," Simnett said.
A beta version isn't expected until the second half of this year. In terms of cost, Simnett said, "It's too early to talk about pricing."
While the look and feel isn't finalized, it will be based on Office Communicator with the goal of lessening the learning curve for Live Communication Server 2005 users, according to David Sokolic, lead program manager for LCS. "The key aim of the client is to give end users the same real-time communication experience when on a mobile device."
Of course, bringing a desktop application to mobile devices calls for a balancing act. Do you look for consistency with the user interface of the PC software or lean towards appropriateness for devices with small form factors? "The trick is finding the sweet spot and a UI that makes people comfortable," Sokolic said.
To help find that balance, Simnett said that Microsoft will be looking for feedback from beta users and said that the company is "currently experimenting" with the software.
Designing the right user interface for a mobile device is no small task, according to Paul Ritter, research director at Wainhouse Research. "Many wireless devices are operated by the user with only one hand for the majority of the time, and that presents unique challenges in designing effective navigation that is also easy and intuitive." He added that major differences in screen sizes and viewing area between desktop and wireless devices create challenges to designing a common user interface. "The issue has by no means been solved."
The new Windows Mobile client is just one example of the type of application that can be developed for Live Communications Server 2005 using soon-to-be-released APIs and following standards-based protocol-level integration via SIP, SIMPLE and CSTA (Computer Supported Telecommunications Applications) over SIP, according to Microsoft. To foster development, Microsoft said it is expanding its Technology Adopter Program (TAP) for Live Communications Server to include mobile developers.
Simnett said that the API for developers will ship in the second half of this year. The API will be available to both in-house developers and ISVs. Third-party applications are likely to include mobile video conferencing and push-to-talk products, Simnett said.
The first vendor to support the Microsoft's efforts to bring LCS 2005 to mobile workers is Research In Motion (RIM), who today announced an agreement to offer enterprise IM and presence to BlackBerry subscribers through integration between Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 and BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
RIM reports that it is working to develop an LCS client for BlackBerry that provides security-enhanced LCS IM connectivity between mobile BlackBerry users and LCS enterprise deployments. The company expects to make the product available by the end of the year, with a trial in September.
Ritter said the Microsoft-RIM agreement has more than just PR value. Presence awareness, he said, is not only about the availability of the user, but the greater contextual picture of how, when and where they should be contacted for different types of communications or collaboration activities. "That's where I see an important value of the Microsoft-RIM agreement in yielding real-world business value."
While Microsoft clearly envisions real-time communications eventually being pervasive among all users, early adopters, Simnett said, include field service workers, delivery people and salespeople. Wainhouse's Ritter agrees, "Certain groups and departments within the larger enterprise are ready for the technology now and are part of the early adopters. The typical road warrior sales professional is a key target for vendors of integrated communications solutions, as are senior management of larger firms that have to stay in frequent touch with the daily operations of the company."
Creating an ubiquitous service that includes everything from smart phones to network servers to PBXs is a massive undertaking and perhaps one well-suited for a company with the size and reach of Microsoft. "They have done a pretty effective job at bringing together a veritable hodge-podge of industry firms that haven't always played nicely together," said Ritter. "It will be interesting to watch to see how many of those partners stay on, get acquired or wilt under the pressure of being part of what could be the biggest game in town."