Public beta due soon for new Microsoft VOIP server

Microsoft will release a public beta of VOIP server software by the end of this month that it says smoothly integrates with legacy phone networks and Office

Microsoft will release a public beta of new VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) server software by the end of this month.The software smoothly integrates with legacy phone networks and its Office application suite, the company said.

On the company's Web site, users can register to download the beta versions of Office Communications Server 2007, as well as Office Communicator 2007, a client application for mobiles and desktops that enables instant messaging, voice and video.

Microsoft plans a formal announcement on Wednesday at the VoiceCon Spring 2007 conference in Orlando, Florida.

Office Communications Server will compete with hardware and software VOIP products from companies such as Cisco Systems and Avaya. Microsoft, however, is leveraging the wide use of its Office productivity suite and Exchange 2007 by integrating it with the new server, part of its "unified" communications strategy.

For example, users can launch a VOIP call by clicking on a person's name in Microsoft's Outlook e-mail program or its SharePoint Server 2007, a portal and collaboration tool, the company said. The embedded "presence" technology can determine whether a person is busy or not. Other options include Web-based audio and video conferences.

Enterprises are adopting VOIP to reduce their phone bills, although concerns remain over deployment, reliability and voice quality.

Microsoft said companies won't have to rip out their existing PBX (private branch exchange) phone networks. Communications Server 2007 interoperates with PBX networks through SIP (session initiation protocol) -- the protocol used for VOIP calls -- and works with different phones, devices and management tools, Microsoft said.

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