Microsoft ships Office Communications Server 2007 beta

OCS 2007 beta clients available for download

Microsoft has made good on its promise from earlier this month, shipping the first public beta of its Office Communications Server 2007 and Officer Communicator client.

The company on Friday posted for download the server software that Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, unveiled during his keynote speech March 8 at the VoiceCon conference in Orlando.

With the release of the Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 public beta, the majority of corporate users are getting their first chance to test drive the software.

OCS 2007 is the centerpiece of Microsoft's unified communications strategy to bring together e-mail, instant messaging, presence, voice and video. It is a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based server that can route and switch IP-based voice traffic, as well as IM and Web conferencing sessions. With Microsoft's Office Communicator and other client technology as the front end to the server, Microsoft hopes to storm the voice market that is attracting heavyweights such as Cisco and IBM.

Microsoft has grand plans for the success of OCS. Raikes laid out those goals at VoiceCon, saying, "within three years, more than 100 million people will be able to make phone calls from Microsoft Outlook, SharePoint, and other Microsoft Office Systems applications; and customers will be able to gain this value with VOIP solutions that are half the cost of what they are today."

On the OCS beta download site, Microsoft describes the server as an "extensible VOIP foundation" and touts its integration Exchange and Active Directory infrastructure.

As part of the beta release, Microsoft also made available a public beta of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 Speech Server.

Among its many features, OCS, which is based on SIP, will let users instantly launch a phone call from Office 2007 applications, such as Word, Outlook or the Office Communicator, by simply clicking on a highlighted name of another user stored in Active Directory.

Microsoft also is positioning OCS 2007 along side Exchange 2007, which was released late last year, as a unified messaging platform. Exchange integrates with OCS 2007 to support its built-in auto-attendant for answering and routing inbound voice calls as well as unified messaging that unifies voice mail and e-mail in a single in-box.

Microsoft also is building a list of partners headed by Nortel. In June 2006, the pair unveiled their Innovative Communications Alliance that incorporates Microsoft's unified communications software and Nortel's Communications Server 1000 IP-PBX.

Microsoft also has announced partnerships with Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya ,Cisco, Mitel Networks, NEC Philips Unified Solutions, Polycom and Siemens Communications.

Microsoft began a private beta of OCS 2007 on Dec. 11 with 2,500 IT pros. The company also hosted a Technology Adoption Program Summit that same week for 250 IT representatives from 100 companies.

Final shipment of OCS is slated for mid-2007, with sources saying that the server should be generally available in June.

In December, Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft's unified communications group, said in a statement, "The convergence of telecom and data networks is happening rapidly. Software will integrate these two worlds, enabling IT managers to deliver new communications possibilities that include VOIP."

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