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Why is Microsoft Chatty About Communicator?

Microsoft  said it will launch a public beta of Office Communications Server 2007 and its client, Microsoft Office Communicator later this month.

The new application stack is the Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor's response to IBM's  unified communications strategy. Both efforts are an attempt to centralize voice and data communications through a single client on the desktop or handheld device.

OCS takes advantage of Microsoft's dominant position on the desktop by integrating click-to-call features into Microsoft's Outlook, Office, and Office SharePoint Server applications. OCS also allows mobile workers to use their office phone numbers and other corporate communications tools, such as instant messaging (IM) and audio or video conferencing at remote locations.

Janice Kapner, director of marketing for Microsoft's Unified Communications group, admitted that Microsoft is a newcomer to the telecommunications arena, and will have to earn customers' trust.

"We're not going to come out and say, 'hey, trust us with your phones,' we know we're not intuitive to this, so we have to earn the credibility," she told internetnews.com

She said this is one reason why Microsoft is partnering with known telecom vendors like Nortel , with which it has signed a strategic alliance.

This is also the reason for Microsoft's presence at the VoiceCon trade show this year, Kapner noted.

Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, will deliver a keynote address at VoiceCon later today, during which he will predict that the cost of VoIP  applications will be cut in half over the next three years as VoIP systems move from hardware to software.

According to Kapner, much of the cost savings will come from this software-based approach, which will give customers more choice over equipment purchases and even allow them to leverage their existing PBX   systems, whether they are IP-based or not.

Customers will be able to integrate their legacy PBX systems with OCS by purchasing a VoIP gateway appliance that sits between the PBX and Exchange 2007; this gateway translates traditional PBX protocols into VoIP protocols.

"That's a strong differentiator for us," she said.

To support OSC, Kapner said Microsoft today is releasing interoperability specifications to potential telephony partners.

The specification is based on the SIP  protocol. Kapner couldn't say whether or how much proprietary code is part of the new specification.

Microsoft expects to release the product to market sometime this summer, but would not make pricing available at this time.