Microsoft’s long, slow, road to VoIP

If it makes so much sense to embed voice into productivity apps, why is it taking so long for Microsoft to offer a compelling VoIP product? Tuesday’s announcement of a private beta plan for some selected enterprise shops — not starting until after the 2007 baseball season will already be underway at best — is an underwhelming statement of progress.

It’s not like they don’t know about VoIP in Redmond. In fact, it’s just possible that the chat feature on Xbox Live accounts for more VoIP minutes than many standalone providers. But now more than a year after its purchase of Teleo, we still are looking for the first real, concerted VoIP effort from Microsoft — and Tuesday’s announcement of a limited beta test of Office Communications Server 2007 ain’t it.

(By the way, we are also still looking for the cordless USB-connected VoIP phones and the click-to-call features in Live Search that Microsoft announced last March. Anyone who’s seen these things, please let us know!)

In November, everyone got excited when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer apparently made VoIP a priority… while talking in Tokyo. Since then, what have we heard about VoIP from Microsoft? Not much.

I have always thought that Microsoft would soft-pedal VoIP as long as it was still trying to sell its TV-hosting software to big phone companies. Maybe that makes sense — no need to compete against free (Skype) or your partners (the telcos) in a space (communcations) that historically, you haven’t been good at.

But then — as voice becomes just another application on the network, who better to build it than the application king? It’s a question I’ve been asking for some time now. I just always thought the “when” would have been by now, already.

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