TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Microsoft in the Telephony Middle Again

Microsoft in the Telephony Middle Again

Lisa Minter (
Sat, 6 Nov 2004 15:18:06 EST

What's the idea behind Microsoft's new Live Communications Server
client 'Istanbul' at the recent 'Voice on the Net' show? An IP-based,
enterprise software end point that knows which of your friends and
colleagues are available at any given time, and on which devices. This
upgrade of the Windows Messenger instant messaging client also
improves its voice and video delivery and offers APIs to vendors that
want to add their endpoints, conferencing bridges, media servers and
application servers.

It also allows a geographically dispersed work force to all huddle
over the same Microsoft Office documents and applications as they
speak into microphones or IP phones or as they chat into boxes.

This sounds familiar to anyone who's kept up with the IP PBX market.

In terms of its goals, Microsoft is offering what all the major PBX
vendors have come out with over the past 18 months. All have worked
presence and instant messaging into their VOIP (voice-over-IP) and
hybrid phone systems, for anyone who wants to buy the extra
server. They all let you scale from chat to voice to video. What I
haven't seen these vendors do, of course, is imbed the IM interface so
that it can be launched from within applications. But this appears, to
me, to be a relatively small advantage. Within Avaya, Nortel, Mitel or
Alcatel systems, for example, document and app sharing is a matter of
a few more clicks. And insofar as their systems are SIP (Session
Initiation Protocol), these voice switches should also be able to
communicate with the world of Windows XP users, whether using
enterprise Windows Messenger or consumer MSN Messenger.

The Instanbul and LCS announcements also sound somewhat familiar to
anyone with sufficient Windows and telecom memory. Since Harry Newton
first coined (or borrowed) the name "computer telephony" and promoted
an industry in which standard computers could direct the making and
taking of phone calls, Windows has wanted a big piece of that action.

Many open-system PBXs were built to run on Windows NT 4. Many still
run on Windows 2003. Windows drivers were written for the telephony
boards from Dialogic (now part of Intel) and NMS and Brooktrout that
performed the actual call singling and media functions in the PC-based
PBX platforms.

TAPI, Microsoft's Telephony API, provided the middleware between the
telephony hardware and the applications. Using TAPI, application
developers could let users dial contacts with a click or forward an
incoming call to voice mail. The nearest I ever came to death by
PowerPoint was a 9-hour marathon session in one room on Microsoft's
campus one December day in 1998, where nine successive product
managers told me what the latest version of TAPI, the TAPI server, and
its integrations with Active Directory and SQL Server would do for

Someone who also worked for Harry once explained to me that the idea
behind Windows middleware was to fit all the devices like printers,
scanners and modems; to all the applications and just stand in the
middle of the money stream with a big net.

By planting its IM and presence platform in the middle of an
enterprise communications network and offering APIs to others' legacy
or IP PBXes, gateways and media servers, as well as its own VOIP
clients in "Istanbul," I can see Microsoft continuing in this
tradition. In doing so, it will be offering its partners a huge user
base in the form of users of its dominant desktop.

Several companies have already jumped on this invitation: At VON,
Radvision announced that it would integrate its multipoint audio/video
conference unit and gatekeeper with LCS. Broadsoft announced its
intention to integrate its advanced call-feature server and
Jasomi networks its PeerPoint session border controller for
endpoint-to-endpoint control over encryption, call logging, and
firewall transversal.

While Microsoft lines up its partners for VOIP, it was equally clear
at VON that the IP PBX vendors themselves; who have worked in
their own presence; and IM integrations are largely defecting from
Windows, or at least giving customers that option. Wendy Bohling,
presenting for Avaya at the IP "PBX shoot-out" presentation at VON,
listed the reasons behind Avaya's offering Communications Manager in
Linux as being the desire to minimize virus threats, freedom from
worry about constant patches, and the convenience of one user
image. Nortel will offer its Business Communications Manager in Linux,
Cisco its Call Manager, and 3Com its NBX.

It will be interesting to see if and how Microsoft succeeds in
pressing its desktop advantage. Istanbul clients will perform as soft
phones within the enterprise, probably even wirelessly on
Windows-running handhelds. Add a gateway to the system and they'll
call anywhere. But they don't now have the wide range of features of
PBX phones. And telecom and IT managers obviously show reluctance to
bet the office phone system on Windows. Indeed, Anoop Gupta,
announcing Istanbul, said that Microsoft does not make PBXes.

So at this point, the question is this: If the IP PBXes have found
their own presence/IM solutions, how does LCS earn its keep? Perhaps
enterprises get it for secure IM and presence, and use it and its
soft-phone capability in parallel with an existing legacy gateway'ed
PBX. Perhaps they get it to make use of already purchased XP licenses,
to be used as soft extensions at home and abroad.

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