He may be the richest man on the planet, but Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has got nothing on Steve Jobs and Apple head honcho’s showmanship. Dressed in a pair of black trousers and black sweater, Chairman Gates introduced what could be the first real hot products out of the Microsoft kingdom - an integrated communications suite that marries internet voice technology with various different Microsoft products such as Outlook, Exchange, Messenger and SharePoint server. The product code named Istanbul is a combination of Live Communication Server, Live Meeting and Communicator desktop client. I had written about this back in November 2004for my Telecom Report column.
“Communicating in a better way has a huge impact for business,” Gates said. The PC, cell phone, and desktop telephone are “a triumvirate that should work together,” he said.
Now going a little granular, there is nothing new in this whole package. There are individual programs which actually do things better. PC-to-PC phone and PC-to-Phone features are a riff on any regular softphone. Presence is something Skype has pushed to mainstream conscious. Video chat, with many multiple users is something Apple’s iChat does better, while integrating email with chat is another Apple innovation. Individual start-ups make better gateways, and well companies like Trillian do a great job of integrating various IM services.
However, what Microsoft has done is package it all together, and will market the hell out of it. It will get a lot of traction because of the Microsoft Exchange & Outlook platforms. As I had predicted, “Microsoft might have been late to the voice-over-Internet-protocol party, but now the company has a plan to take over the world of IP-based communications.” Microsoft, like the companies it used to laugh at has become a “packaging” company, taking ideas that percolate from the web and putting a Microsoft brand on top of it. Its not such a bad idea – just like no one got fired for buying an IBM mainframe, Microsoft is a good enough bet.
Despite my optimism about Microsoft’s chances, its still not a slam dunk – because Microsoft despite all the dollars doesn’t understand communications, networks and quality of service. It has a lot of cash rich competitors – Nortel and Cisco – come to mind. Peter Pawlak, an analyst at consultancy Directions on Microsoft, told The Wall Street Journal, “A lot of these major players are going after the same thing.”Microsoft’s track record on security leaves a lot to be desired. Spam in email is one thing, but spam on converged networks is something no corporate IT manager is going to put up with. A virus that can take down your voice network – ouch.