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Microsoft Unveils Office Communications Server 2007 R2

The unified communications software, still in beta, includes features aimed primarily at team collaboration, remote and mobile workers, and developers.

Microsoft unveiled the next version of its Office Communications Server unified communications software Tuesday at VoiceCon in Amsterdam.

Currently in limited beta testing, Office Communications Server 2007 R2 includes a swath of new features aimed primarily at team collaboration, remote and mobile workers, and developers.

The new version of the software -- which combines instant messaging, e-mail, team collaboration, and voice calling into a programmable client-server platform -- will be available by February. "It is a major step forward to the capabilities that were available in Office Communications Server 2007," Gurdeep Singh Pall, VP of Microsoft's unified communications group, said in an interview.

Microsoft has jumped forcefully into unified communications and voice over IP in the last two years with OCS, a small-business VoIP suite called Response Point, and a widely publicized marketing and development partnership with Nortel Networks. The company has consistently touted its software-centric strategy, though Microsoft doesn't exactly have a long telecommunications track record.

That software-centric line has been fairly successful: According to Singh Pall, half of all Fortune 500 companies have licensed OCS, and some companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, have more than 5,000 people using the software for voice calls.

Microsoft places OCS 2007 R2's new features into three buckets: enhanced voice and mobility, developer tools, and "next-generation collaboration" (which itself includes the introduction of several new collaboration modalities).

In terms of new voice support, OCS 2007 R2 includes an attendant console, which allows receptionists or secretaries to manage calls for other users -- for example, setting up teleconferences or filtering calls. OCS 2007 R2 also includes SIP trunking, directly connecting OCS to a VoIP connection rather than having to go through a VoIP gateway.

Microsoft's Office Communicator Mobile client now will be supported on Nokia S40 and S60, Motorola Razr, and BlackBerry devices. The company also has introduced the concept of a single phone number, meaning that employees using certain smartphones can have their calls routed to their mobile devices, where calls can look as though they came from an employee's office phone number.

Microsoft also has included a number of new types of collaboration in OCS 2007 R2 along with IM, voice, and conferencing. One new feature is persistent group chat, which sets up permanent chat rooms, notifies users of new posts, and archives discussion for compliance purposes. Other new features include an on-premises audioconferencing bridge, Web-based desktop sharing, and the ability to escalate conversations from voice call to Web conference even if there are mobile callers on the line who won't have access to the Web conference.

Developers, as with many Microsoft technologies, get their own chunk of features. OCS 2007 R2 is designed to be extensible, meaning that people can add features or integrate certain collaboration features into other applications. The new version introduces new APIs and Visual Studio tools to help developers integrate collaboration services into business processes.

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