Microsoft preps Web front-end to IM server

Microsoft is developing a component to let users access its LCS 2005 enterprise IM system from Web browsers.

Companies using Microsoft's Live Communications Server (LCS) 2005 will be able to provide Web access to the enterprise instant messaging system with a component the software maker is currently developing.

The component that will open up LCS 2005 to browser users will go into a private beta, or test, period in mid-July and will become generally available around the end of 2005, a Microsoft official said Tuesday.

Microsoft hasn't settled yet on pricing or licensing details for this server-side component, called Office Communicator Web Access, said Ed Simnett, group product manager at Microsoft's Real Time Collaboration group.

Office Communicator Web Access will enable access to LCS 2005 from Microsoft's own Internet Explorer and from browsers made by other vendors, Simnett said, adding that it has yet to be determined which non-Microsoft browsers will be supported.

Communicator Web Access was formally announced Tuesday by Anoop Gupta, vice president of Microsoft's Real Time Collaboration group, during a panel at the Collaboration Technologies Conference in New York.

LCS 2005 began shipping in December and its preferred front-end is the PC application Office Communicator 2005, formerly called Istanbul, which is expected to ship by the end of this month.

Office Communicator 2005 works only on PCs running Windows XP and Windows 2000, Simnett said. However, a Web front end such as Office Communicator Web Access opens up LCS 2005 to PCs that either use older Windows versions or non-Windows operating systems, such as Mac OS and Linux, he said. It will also come in handy for LCS 2005 users who have Office Communicator 2005 on their primary work PC but also want to access the IM system from other PCs at home or on the road, Simnett said.

Office Communicator Web Access will definitely provide from its first iteration basic text-based instant messaging and presence functionality, Simnett said. It will be determined later what other types of IM communications and features it will offer and when.

In April, Microsoft announced it is developing a front-end to LCS 2005 that will let users access the system from mobile devices. At the time, Microsoft said this mobile front-end to LCS 2005 would go into beta in the second half of 2005.

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