Microsoft unveils IM client, outlines Office vision

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates on Tuesday outlined Microsoft's vision for collaboration and communication within the Office System product lineup, introducing a new IM client and enhancements to the company's IM server and Web conferencing application.

During a keynote address in San Francisco, Gates unveiled the new real-time communications client, dubbed Microsoft Office Communicator 2005, and explored the role of communications technology in Office applications.

"Our ambition for Office is very broad," Gates said. "(It is) to change the way people communicate, meet, and share information. A key area (in Office development) is a breakthrough in communication."

A major part of the evolution of Office is to inject real-time capabilities into the platform in a deeper way, he said. The goal is to break down silos of information and to improve information navigation, business intelligence, online meetings, and collaboration within multiple Office applications.

"This is an evolution of Office way beyond when it was about a single worker doing a spreadsheet or word processing," Gates said.

Drilling into specifics, Gates unwrapped Office Communicator 2005, formerly code-named Istanbul, and announced that the product will be available by the middle of the year. The Communicator client integrates presence technology, IM, voice, video, telephony, and access to Web conferencing. In addition, the client features enhanced integration into Office applications such as Outlook, SharePoint, and Live Meeting. One key feature of Office Communicator 2005 is the ability to integrate traditional PBX telephones into the IM client.

"VoIP is exploding," Gates said. "We want to enable the software richness on the PC to connect out to traditional PBXes."

Gates also introduced an update for Live Communications Server 2005. The update will be available via a service pack that delivers support for Communicator; connectivity to public IM networks; improved IM spam, or spim, control, and support for enterprise-to-enterprise federation.

Microsoft's Live Meeting Web conferencing service also gained improvements. The new release of the hosted service features the ability to launch a meeting from within Office applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Project, and Communicator. In addition, the service gains VoIP support and integrated audio controls that let participants be called directly to join a meeting.

As part of the demonstration, Microsoft used its Live Meeting technology to connect in real-time with the creator and two cast members of the TV show "The Apprentice." The collaboration session connected participants in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York and showed the participants using a whiteboard collaboration tool to collectively develop future show ideas.

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Cathleen Moore

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