With Windows Vista heading off to production soon, and Office 2007 already on the way, Microsoft’s bigwigs are traveling the globe, making appearances and pontificating about the "advantages" offered by their forthcoming products. One of the advantages that we’re hearing about now for the first time relates to the tie-in of VoIP services with Windows Vista and Microsoft’s overall server strategy.
In Tokyo this week for a Microsoft partner conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told attendees that Microsoft is planning on making a move in the VoIP arena at the beginning of next year. VoIP is currently white hot, with everyone and their grandmother basking in the glory that is dirt-cheap (or often free) calling across the globe. Ballmer and the folks at Microsoft are hoping that the buzz of a VoIP/Vista tie-in might help move Windows Vista a little faster.
VoIP, meet Vista
The crown jewel of the arrangement will be service and application-level integration of VoIP calling in Windows Vista itself. Microsoft has released few details regarding what the actual implementation might look like, except to say that it will unify email, VoIP, video chat, and instant messaging, and that it will be integrated into the operating system. Ballmer also noted that VoIP integration would be supported on the server level, as well.
We can make some educated guesses as to what Microsoft has up its sleeve. First, we would be extremely surprised if Microsoft was not using Live Messenger to push their strategy on the desktop. Live Messenger fits with Microsoft’s larger brand of "Live!" services that are meant to link the local desktop with the Internet and Internet services. Second, Live Messenger already has VoIP features, and the application plays a central role in Microsoft’s corporate Instant Messaging strategy (Office Communicator). Will they reinvent the wheel? We doubt it. They could slap a new name and face on an existing application, however.
The real question is where Live Communications Server (LCS) fits into all of this, and whether or not this will end up being a Vista exclusive. To date, Microsoft has focused its corporate collaboration energies on Office deployments, not Windows per se. In an ideal world for Microsoft, these Office deployments happen alongside supporting server components, such as SharePoint Server 2007 and Exchange. Normally one might expect a play like this to center around Microsoft Outlook, but Microsoft has focused on talking about VoIP and Vista. The upshot here is this: most of Microsoft’s moves in collaboration have been about Office sales, but right now Microsoft is talking about Vista.
As much as Microsoft would love to see a rapid adoption of Vista among businesses, it’s not going to happen, for reasons we have outlined. Office 2007 will also face quite similar challenges. That leaves Microsoft in the position of needing to support whatever VoIP aspirations they have with whatever they have on hand, namely a ton of Windows XP users who are also running older versions of Office. The question that Microsoft will need to answer: what’s more important? Building as big a VoIP business as possible by leveraging existing "seats," or spur uptake of new client and server software by using VoIP as a carrot at the end of the proverbial stick? The answer depends on how serious Microsoft is about wanting to be a real player in VoIP.