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Is IM Poised For Greatness, On A Microsoft Scale?

Microsoft hasn't provided much on an overall strategy for melding its instant messaging and VoIP technology yet, but the software giant is sure interested in keeping skin the game.

A week after Yahoo! announced it would add computer-to-phone calling capabilities to its instant-messaging service, Microsoft said it is expanding its VoIP offerings via a deal with MCI to let PC users place calls to land line telephones and mobile phones. Oddly enough, the service will only permit outbound calls, while Microsoft's chief competitors at this point, Yahoo! and AOL both offer services that allow IM users to receive and make calls out.

But Microsoft said it is currently just testing the service, called "MCI Web Calling for Windows Live Call," so when it's ready to formally roll out next, perhaps it will go both ways. At the very least, they should shorten the name. At any rate, Microsoft gets to start making use of the Internet telephony software it acquired when it bought out Teleo Inc. in August.Rates have not been set for the service, but during the test phase, MCI will charge 2.3 cents a minute. Customers will be able to sign up for the service directly through Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger and purchase prepaid calling time.

But before they do that, users will have to figure out first why they don't just use a free Internet phone service, like Skype. Microsoft will undoubtedly reveal some sort of value proposition. We'll just have to stay tuned to the saga.

And that saga, which should reach some sort of fruition in 2006, continues to unfold as the year winds down. Microsoft announced yesterday the release of its Office Communicator Web Access client, the lightweight messaging client for its Live Communications Server 2005. The Web client will enable remote and non-Windows users to access their corporate instant messaging system and make use of the presence and collaboration capabilities of Live Communications Server.

What has many of us stumped is that Microsoft continues to present a rather open posture for its messaging strategy. Rather than a members-only approach, the company looks, for all the world, like it wants everyone to connect to its services. Maybe that's part of the afore-mentioned value proposition.